The beauty of Alberta ammonite shell makes it a prized target for amateur and commercial fossil collectors. What many collectors don’t realize is that the rules for collecting ammonite shell are different than they are for any other type of fossil in Alberta due to their commercial and First Nations significance.

The difference is that you cannot surface collect ammonite shell in Alberta. The provincial ministries Alberta Energy and Alberta Culture regulate collecting them on lands where the Crown owns the minerals. The first step to get permission to collect ammonite shell on Crown Land is to apply to Alberta Energy for an Ammonite Shell Agreement (

Next is to apply to Alberta Culture for an exemption of section 30(1) of the Historical Resources Act. These applications are processed by the Land Use Planning Program of the Historic Resources Management Branch and can be obtained by contacting George Chalut at You have four months to apply for the exemption after receiving your Ammonite Shell Agreement or Alberta Energy may cancel your Agreement.

Permission to collect ammonite shell on freehold mineral title lands is administered only by Alberta Culture. There is no need to contact Alberta Energy or to obtain an Agreement, but you must have an exemption of section 30(1) of the Historical Resources Act by contacting George Chalut.
Another critical step, which is not administered by the Government of Alberta, is to obtain surface rights access. A prospective collector must contact the surface rights holder/landowner to obtain permission to access the property. On freehold mineral title lands, you must also contact the mineral titleholder and seek permission to collect ammonite shell.

Once you have received all the appropriate approvals and permissions, you can begin collecting ammonite shell. The type of collecting, and where you can collect, along with any other requirements will be detailed in your exemption of section 30(1) of the Historical Resources Act.
Even after the fossils have been collected, they are still property of the Crown, so they cannot be sold, traded, altered, or removed from Alberta. To get ownership, you must apply to Alberta Culture for disposition. The Resource Management Program at the Royal Tyrrell Museum manages the fossil Disposition Process and all requests for information and application forms can be sent to me at

To initiate the Process, you must submit an application for the Disposition of Palaeontological Resources, along with photos of the ammonite shell for which you are seeking disposition. This application process is free.

Once the application is received here, it is reviewed by Resource Management staff for completeness and entered into our database. If it is complete, with all relevant information, signatures, and photographs, the application is sent to one of our curators for review. The curator will review the photographs and determine if any of the fossils are scientifically significant. Any significant fossils will be removed from the disposition process and must be sent to the Royal Tyrrell Museum to become part of the Provincial Collection.

After this review, the application is returned to the Resource Management Program where the Disposition Certificate is drafted. The application and certificate are sent to the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Heritage Division (Alberta Culture) for final approval. Once signed, the Resource Management Program drafts a letter explaining the results of the Disposition Process. This letter is returned to you with the approved application form and Disposition Certificate.

When the Disposition Process is complete, you become the legal owner of the ammonite shell approved for disposition. You are now free to sell, trade, or alter the ammonite shell as you like. It is important to remember that there may be federal export issues to address before the ammonite shell can be exported from Canada. Go to for more information.

One of the most stunning ammonite specimens discovered in Alberta. On display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

One of the most stunning ammonite specimens discovered in Alberta. On display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

-Dan Spivak
Head, Resource Management Program

Bonebed 30 (BB30) in Dinosaur Provincial Park, near Brooks, Alberta, is about the size of a football field. It contains tens of thousands of fossil bones from the horned dinosaur, Centrosaurus apertus that were buried by a coastal flood 76 million years ago. Although there are hundreds of bonebeds in Dinosaur Provincial Park, only a small fraction of the bonebeds dominated by large (>5cm) fossil bones have been systematically excavated.

When we are excavating fossils, we aren’t just concerned with what animal(s) they are from and what part of the animal they represent; the locations and relationships among the bones are also very important. To map the site, a baseline is established to provide a frame of reference for the excavations in the bonebed. From this baseline, a one-metre by one-metre coordinated grid is established.

A one-metre by one-metre coordinated grid is used to map the bonebed.

A one-metre by one-metre coordinated grid is used to map the bonebed. Photo courtesy: Jess Smith

As each bone is exposed from the rock, we map its location on the map sheet for the map grid square where the bone is found, and record data about each bone including what animals the fossil came from (e.g., Centrosaurus, Gorgosaurus), what the fossil is (e.g., femur, parietal, tooth), which grid square it was found in (e.g., A2), the orientation, depth and plunge of the bone, and any other notes that can be observed in the field (tooth marks, missing fragments, abrasion, etc.). The orientation of the bone is whether the bone is horizontal, vertical, sub-horizontal, or, less frequently, sub-vertical. The trend of the bone is measured for long bones like limbs bones or ribs and indicates the long axis of the bone relative to north (e.g., 140°-320° would represent a trend of roughly northwest-southeast). If the majority of the long bones are deposited along the same general trend, this can indicate that the fossils were deposited under the influence of flowing water. Depth indicates how far the bone is below the baseline. If the larger, heavier bones were deposited lower than the smaller, lighter bones, this also suggests a fluvial (river channel) influence on the deposition of the bones. If the bone orientations and trends are widely variable with small and large bones all jumbled up together, this indicates a very different picture of the depositional history of the bonebed.

The baseline for this excavation in BB30 is 5.51 m long and runs west-east. On the map, the baseline is represented by the thick green line. The map area is divided into one meter squares, with the corners often marked with nails and flagging tape. The grid square is subdivided, using string, into 10 cm by 10 cm squares. Each grid square can be identified by a number and a letter—in the case of this map with letters A through D going from east to west along the baseline, and numbers 1 through 4 going from south to north away from the baseline. With a larger bonebed, more letters and numbers would be used. This map shows only a small portion of the bonebed. It was excavated during the summers of 2009 – 2012 by participants in the Guided Excavation Program, a public participation program operated jointly by Alberta Parks and the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Bonebed 30 mapped and colour coded.

Bonebed 30 – mapped and colour coded.

For more information about the program go to:

David Lloyd
Research Assistant

Megan and Jillian in the Distance Learning Studio

Megan and Jillian in the Distance Learning Studio

The Distance Learning Program is part of the Education section at the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Many schools across Alberta make the trek to Drumheller for field trips and participate in on-site educational programming, but there are many people who will never get the chance to visit the Museum in person. The Distance Learning Program was created so that anyone could get the chance to connect with an expert and learn about Alberta’s incredible palaeontology!

What is Distance Learning exactly? You’ve probably used Skype, Google Talk, or Face Time to video chat with friends and family. We use a different sort of technology to connect to schools, libraries, and other sites. Originally, we could only use videoconferencing equipment to connect to sites that also had this technology. But, there have been recent technology advancements so that you don’t need any specialized hardware – just a high-speed internet connection.

One of the great benefits of Distance Learning is the opportunity to speak with, and learn from, an expert. We have eight, 45-minute programs that range from a virtual tour of the galleries to a palaeo Q&A. For teachers, our programs are designed to cover core curriculum requirements and are delivered at an appropriate grade level. We use a variety of methods to bring the science of palaeontology to life: green screen technology that allows us to step in front of digital media, an overhead camera that allows us to show fossils up close, and a huge database of multimedia (images, videos, and animations) that help support our answers visually. Behind the scenes, we are a two-woman team, Megan McLauchlin (myself) and Jillian Steele. During a program, one of us presents while the other operates the technical equipment (lights, sound, and multimedia). This allows the presenter to focus on interacting with the audience and the other to concentrate on running the show!

So, how did the Distance Learning Program come about? In 2003, the Museum expanded its education space with the addition of the ATCO Tyrrell Learning Centre. Museum management realized the need for a dedicated space early on and so a Distance Learning Studio was included in the blueprints. In 2006, the Distance Learning Program was launched and now we’re in our eighth season of programming. To date, we have connected to over 40,000 students and have delivered over 1600 programs to Canada, the United States, and across the world!

We are always working on new ideas for programs and have a number of exciting projects that are in the development stages. Recently, we have been working on a Home Schooling Program where home schooled students will connect to us and other home schoolers for a three-program session. We are also adapting the Royal Tyrrell Museum Virtual Visit program to be suitable for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to send a big thank-you to all of the schools, teachers, former Distance Learning staff, and other supporters for making our award-winning Program the success that it is. Our plan is to keep pushing the boundaries of this technology and to bring the best interactive experiences to you.

Distance Learning is just another wonderful way to learn more about palaeontology from experts at the Royal Tyrrell Museum!

- Megan McLauchlin, Distance Learning Coordinator


No matter what type of museum visitor you are, or what your learning style is, you’ve probably noticed them—the traditional text panels and information labels that let you know what you’re looking at.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology is unique in many ways. With the incredible richness of fossils found in Alberta, and the active research conducted by our scientists, there are endless specimens to display and exhibits to build. My job is to translate the main messages that our scientists wish to present to the public. Translation meaning to explain often complex information to the broadest audience possible. Our annual visitation is over 370,000 thousand people of every age, so it can be a challenge.

The Process

Once the focus of a display or exhibit has been decided, a team is gathered from most sections of the Museum from management and scientists to the technicians who mount specimens for display. The curator(s) and the interpretive planner will decide on the direction of the exhibit, what stories should be told, what specimens should be on display, and what the expected learning outcomes should be. Once that has been decided, I gather all the information available to research the topic. I need to understand the subject matter completely so I can explain it to someone who doesn’t have specific knowledge about the topic. This can include an extended content document from the scientific team, scientific publications, books, specimen reports, interviews, and through various other means. We are very fortunate to have a comprehensive library that contains scientific books, research papers, maps, field notes, journals, and historical papers. But the most accurate information about Late Cretaceous Alberta is available from our research scientists and curators. I can go directly to the source by walking down the hallway. We have experts in vertebrate palaeontology (which includes dinosaurs), palynology, geology, dinosaur palaeoecology, fishes, herpetology, and fossil mammals.

“Writing text panels is a specialty.
Writing science text labels is a special specialty.”

Michael Shurman

Here’s an example of some content I was given about a new type of elasmosaur for the 2012 exhibit
Alberta’s Last Sea Dragon: Solving an Ancient Puzzle.

Animals, plants, fungi etc. are categorized based on their characteristics – as a specimen is described in greater detail it can be grouped with other specimens. That is until it reaches the species level. At this level, its characters make it unique from all other life forms. We know that plesiosaurs are not fishes, and are the descendants of formerly land-living animals because they have the same basic pattern of bones in their fore and hind limbs that other land living animals have (e.g., a single bone at the base – humerus or femur, followed by two smaller paired bones – radius+ulna or tibia+fibula). We know that plesiosaurs are reptiles based on the construction of their skulls and jaws (e.g. the lower jaw is composed of several bones on each side, unlike the mammalian case where there is just single bone on each side). Although the skull of Albertonectes was not found, the rest of the skeleton is very similar to other elasmosaurs known from the same period in geological time from elsewhere in the world, and the simplest explanation is that the fossil represents another kind of elasmosaurid plesiosaur.

It can take many drafts before final text panel is ready to be reviewed by the exhibits team. The writer has to bear in mind that text panels should be conversational, clear, concise, free of jargon and technical terms (unless introducing an unfamiliar topic or word specific to palaeontology that needs to be explained). It needs to be simple; yet not necessarily boring. Words and sentences should vary in length, but not be longer than 25 words. Often people are reading aloud to others, so that is something I always do while writing.

And this is the text panel that is on display:

75 million years old, but brand new
The operator of a large excavator at the Korite International mine uncovered this specimen in 2007 during routine ammonite shell (known as Ammolite) mining. Palaeontologists determined it was a new species of long-necked plesiosaur—an elasmosaur. The first clue was the number of bones in its neck. This marine reptile specimen has 76 neck vertebrae, the most of any animal known. That’s more than ten times the amount of a giraffe—with only seven neck (cervical) vertebrae.

Depending on the exhibit, there may also be introductory text panels, specimen labels, conclusion panels, photograph captions, and more. We’d like to tell you everything we know about our specimens; their stories are incredibly interesting, but it would be overwhelming. Museum visitors are generally standing while they are read and only spend a certain amount of time in each exhibit.

I would like to think that even if you don’t read everything, your curiosity about the fascinating science of palaeontology will be piqued, and you will be inspired to learn more.

Wendy Taylor, Writer/Editor

Every spring and summer the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s Resource Management Program receives phone calls and emails from amateur fossil collectors, wondering how they can legally collect fossils in Alberta. To ensure that you are collecting fossils in a legal and responsible manner in Alberta, follow these guidelines.
(Disclaimer: These guidelines apply to all fossils in Alberta except ammonite shell (I will discuss ammonite shell collecting in a future post) and does not apply for provincial parks or other protected areas and lands under federal jurisdiction (such as national parks, First Nations Reservations and military bases).

Always get landowner permission. It is imperative that you contact the landowner of any property you want to access for fossil collecting. Not only is it the law, but it helps to maintain good relations between landowners and fossil collectors, both professional and amateur. In the case of Crown land, contact the managing government department as there may be special access conditions you need to follow.

Don’t excavate any fossil unless you have a Permit to Excavate Palaeontological Resources. It is legal to surface collect for fossils, but excavation permits are only issued to professional palaeontologists for research purposes. In Alberta, excavation of a fossil is defined as exposing, extracting, or removing palaeontological resources (fossils) from their original context in the surrounding bedrock or enclosing sediment (Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation). If any kind of digging is needed to free a fossil from the ground then you should leave it where you found it.
For fossils such as petrified wood, plant leaf impressions and oyster shell you can apply for ownership through the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology (RTMP). For most types of fossils found in Alberta though, the ownership resides with the Crown so you can’t sell, trade, or remove the fossil from Alberta. If you live in Alberta, you can take the fossil home with you but if you are visiting from outside the province, you cannot take any fossils when you return home.

If you happen to find a fossil that looks significant, leave it where you found it, but note its location either on a map or with a hand-held GPS unit (many smartphones have a GPS function). Take photos of the fossil. Close-ups so we can identify it, and some from farther back so we can use landmarks to relocate the fossil. Then, when you are somewhere safe, contact the RTMP to report the find.

When done in a legal and responsible manner, fossil collecting can be a rewarding hobby that benefits the collector and science. By working with the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology and the provincial universities, amateur collectors can have a significant impact on what we know about Alberta’s past.

If you have any further questions about collecting fossils in Alberta, email to me at

-Dan Spivak, Head, Resource Management Program

The Collections Program at the Royal Tyrrel­l Museum is responsible for preserving the integrity of its 130,000 fossil specimens. This includes conservation of all the fossils in storage and on exhibit, which is my job—I’m Rhian Russell, the Museum’s Conservation Technician.

Conservation can be preventive in nature, such as controlling the storage environment, or interventive—stabilizing a deteriorating fossil with consolidant before it falls apart completely and cannot be saved.

We commonly use Paraloid B-72 to consolidate and adhere fossils. It’s an acrylic polymer in the form of clear beads that are dissolved in a solvent (we use acetone) to make a thin consolidant or a thick adhesive.


Paraloid B-72 beads, and a tube containing 50% w/w Paraloid B-72 in acetone.

When applied to a fossil, the acetone slowly evaporates, and the remaining polymer holds the fossil together. Paraloid B-72 is widely used in many fields of object conservation as it has proved to be a highly reversible, stable material. These qualities are important because a fossil will only hold together as long as the glue connecting it does.

However, because Paraloid B-72 depends on the evaporation of solvent, it can take a long time to cure. This means it can be necessary to use adhesives that set faster and offer a strong bond immediately. These adhesives are usually much harder to reverse and may not be as stable as Paraloid B-72 in the long term.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve been working on a project to test the tensile strength of Paraloid B-72 compared with other adhesives that are used in fossil preparation, namely the cyanoacrylates (superglues) and epoxy resins. I want to see exactly how well B-72 performs compared to other adhesives, so that a more informed decision can be made about which adhesive to choose.

Paleobond PB100, a cyanoacrylate formulated for fossil preparation, and Devcon 2-Ton epoxy, a two-part epoxy resin.

Paleobond PB100, a cyanoacrylate formulated for fossil preparation, and Devcon 2-Ton epoxy, a two-part epoxy resin.

To test this, we worked with technicians at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta using their Universal Testing Machine to pull apart test samples joined with our adhesives, and measured the exact amount of tensile force required to break the adhesive bonds. We made lots of test samples from limestone paving slab, attached aluminum tabs to the sides to connect them to the testing machine, and glued them together with Paraloid B-72, cyanoacrylate, or epoxy.

Limestone tensile test samples after testing (From Fossil Friday on the Museum’s Facebook page)

Limestone tensile test samples after testing (From Fossil Friday on the Museum’s Facebook page)

Paraloid B-72 was the weakest adhesive of the three, but it still took a great deal of tensile force to break the join.

The limestone blocks themselves broke under the same amount of tensile force as the epoxy did; meaning that many of the epoxy test samples broke in the limestone before the adhesive gave way. This is not something you want to happen to a fossil, as it means that the fossil will break somewhere new rather than at the existing break when subjected to stress. Therefore in this case, epoxy would be too strong for the material. Many of the fossils we work with would break under far less tensile force than the limestone blocks, so we don’t need to use such a strong adhesive to repair them. Paraloid B-72 should have sufficient strength for most repairs, and in my own experience, I’ve rarely found cases where it hasn’t been strong enough.

As you can see, there is much to consider when choosing materials for fossil conservation. We want specimens to last as long as possible so that they can be used for research, education, and exhibition for many generations to come.

I hope to post updates on my projects in the future, so stay tuned. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to email me at

If you would like to know more about this project, watch my talk at

- Rhian Russell, Conservation Technician

Alberta’s palaeontological resources (fossils) became legally protected on July 5, 1978 when they were added to the province’s Historical Resources Act (HRA). This is the legislation and its associated regulations that we use to preserve and protect Alberta’s plentiful fossils.

I will discuss the finer details of Alberta’s fossil legislation and protection strategies in future posts, but for now, I’ll provide an overview of the palaeontological aspects of the HRA and the associated regulations. It should be noted that Alberta’s HRA is a broad piece of legislation that protects several types of historic resources, but this post is limited to how the Act relates to fossils.

Historical Resources Act

The Historical Resources Act is the primary piece of legislation used to protect fossils (and other historic resources) in Alberta. Probably the most significant part of the HRA is that it makes all fossils, within Alberta, property of the Crown in Right of Alberta. Essentially, all fossils found in Alberta, whether on private or public land, are Crown-owned resources, managed and protected by Alberta Culture on behalf of Albertans.

Some of the highlights of the HRA as it relates to palaeontology are:

1)     It provides a legal definition of a palaeontological resource.

2)     It provides the authority for Alberta Culture to designate significant palaeontological sites as Provincial Historic Resources (e.g., the Grande Cache Dinosaur Tracksite and the Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur Egg Site are Provincial Historic Resources).

3)     It requires that anyone who wants to excavate fossils must first obtain a Permit to Excavate Palaeontological Resources from Alberta Culture.

4)     It requires anyone who encounters fossils while conducting an excavation to contact Alberta Culture (via the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology) to report the discovery.

5)     It restricts the export of fossils from Alberta.

6)     It makes it unlawful to alter, mark, or damage a fossil found in Alberta.

7)     It allows Alberta Culture to require further studies or assessments if an activity (e.g. pipelines, mines, roads, etc.) is likely to impact fossils.

8)     It sets out penalties, a maximum $50,000 fine and/or one year in jail, for anyone convicted of contravening the Act.

Follow this link to see the Historical Resources Act on the Alberta Queen’s Printer’s website:

Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation

The Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation sets out the requirements and expectations for individuals applying for a Permit to Excavate Palaeontological Resources. The main point of this regulation is that a permit to excavate for fossils can only be issued to an individual with a post-graduate degree in palaeontology, or closely related discipline.

Follow this link to see the Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation on the Alberta Queen’s Printer’s website:

Dispositions (Ministerial) Regulation

Unlike the Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation, the Dispositions (Ministerial) Regulation is directly applicable to some aspects of amateur and commercial fossil collecting in Alberta.

Perhaps one of the most important items in the Regulation is the Control List in Schedule 1. The Control List formalizes the four types of fossils that the Crown can transfer ownership (dispose) to individuals. This list applies only to fossils collected after July 5, 1978 and includes 1) ammonite shell, including all gemmological by-products of ammonite shell 2) oyster shell, 3) petrified wood and 4) fossil leaf impressions.

The Regulation provides a mechanism for the Crown to:

1)     Provide certificates of ownership to individuals with fossil collections made prior to July 5, 1978.

2)     Transfer ownership of legally collected Control List fossils.

3)     Transfer custodianship of fossils from the Crown to an individual.

Also of interest, the Regulation sets out the criteria that an individual must meet to legally collect ammonite shell in Alberta.

Here’s a link to the Disposition (Ministerial) Regulation on the Alberta Queen’s Printer’s website:


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