Drumheller… Just six months after the discovery of a plesiosaur fossil at Syncrude’s North Mine in Fort McMurray, fossils of two more extinct marine reptiles were unearthed in the same area in May, less than a week apart.
On Friday, May 11, Syncrude shovel operator Jason Young was digging into the mine face and uncovered something of a different colour. Having visited the Royal Tyrrell Museum when he was younger, and having taken Syncrude’s fossil identification training, he realized it was fossil material when he got down for a closer look.
It turned out to be a nearly complete elasmosaur, approximately 112 to 114 million years old. The elasmosaurs were predatory marine reptiles that gave rise to extremely long-necked forms some 50 million years later. Another, less complete elasmosaur specimen was found on May 7.
While the fossil remains are not complete, the November 2011 and May specimens appear to have 70 to 80 per cent of the skeleton preserved. The May 11 specimen has a partial skull, making it extremely significant for research and study.
The reason for the high number of fossil finds at Syncrude is not clear. Syncrude may be mining in the area of an ancient sea bed where wind and water currents concentrated carcasses of plesiosaurs. Dr. Donald Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, expects to know more once he and his team map the fossils’ exact locations, vertically and horizontally, and conduct further research.
A collaborative relationship between Syncrude and the Royal Tyrrell Museum has led to the recovery of a number of significant fossils. Complete preparation of each of the specimens will require one to two years, but with the high number of fossil finds over the past two years, the latest Syncrude specimens may not be ready for display until 2015.
Owned and operated by Alberta Culture, the Royal Tyrrell Museum is located six kilometres northwest of Drumheller on Highway 838. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Single-day admission is $11 for adults, $30 for families (two adults and their children ages 7-17), $8 for seniors, and $6 for youth (7-17). Children age six and under are admitted free. Two-day admission rates are available.
For more information visit www.tyrrellmuseum.com or call 403-823-7707 (dial 310-0000 for toll-free access within Alberta).