May 20, 2016

Alberta’s world-renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology is getting even more exciting as it unveils a major new exhibit and a planned $9.3-million expansion, part of the Alberta Jobs Plan.

The new exhibit, Foundations, offers visitors of all ages a dynamic, interactive experience that explores the science of palaeontology and Alberta’s leadership role in the study and preservation of some of the of some of the best fossils in the world.

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The Government of Alberta is making a major $9.3-million investment to expand the Royal Tyrrell Museum facilities, including an additional hands-on learning area, classrooms, and a distance-learning space. The Museum is a key heritage tourism attraction for the province and a significant economic driver for southern Alberta. The expansion will create short- and long-term employment and diversify our economy.

Royal Tyrrell Museum Ext_2015_10_27

“Albertans love the Royal Tyrrell Museum and this new exhibit and expansion are sure to be dino-mite! It is truly a provincial jewel, inspiring young minds and attracting scientists and visitors from all over the world. By making the museum experience even better, the expansion money our government is announcing today will increase visitation, create jobs, and leave a legacy for future generations.”
– Ricardo Miranda, Minister of Culture and Tourism

Foundations will encourage visitors to learn about the basics of palaeontology, geology, evolution, fossilization, and the history of life on Earth. They will witness the breadth and wonder of the Museum’s collection and come to understand Alberta’s critical role in the preservation and scientific study of fossils globally.

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Multimillion-dollar expansion plans underway
Through Capital Plan 2016, the Government of Alberta is investing $9.3 million for the expansion of facilities at the Museum.

“Our government is proud to invest in this world-renowned Museum. When we build, renew and maintain infrastructure such as the Royal Tyrrell Museum, our economy gets a needed boost. Investing in infrastructure also supports jobs and strengthens Alberta’s communities.”
– Brian Mason, Minister of Infrastructure

Funding will go towards:

  • expanding facilities, including the distance learning studios
  • additional classroom and learning space
  • expanding accessible public washroom facilities
  • developing a hands-on discovery room
  • a rest area for the entire family

Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2017 and be completed in the spring of 2019. The Museum will remain open to the public throughout the construction period.

Royal Tyrrell Museum Discovery 01_2015_10_28

The Royal Tyrrell Museum is recognized globally as a premier research and education centre. It houses one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaurs and is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of palaeontology. Since opening its doors in 1985, the Museum has attracted more than 12 million visitors from around the world.

In 2013, tourism in Alberta generated $8 billion in visitor spending and more than 127,000 jobs.

Foundations Fact Sheet

About the Museum Fact Sheet

Media inquiries:
Carrie-Ann Lunde
Head, Marketing & Public Relations
Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

Alberta Culture & Tourism

More than 18 provincially-owned historic sites and museums are open for the May long weekend until the end of the summer season, during the Labour Day long weekend.

For evacuees of the Alberta wildfires, regular admission fees will be waived at provincially-owned historic sites and museums until September 5. Evacuees will be required to provide photo identification or a postal code as proof of residency for family admission. We hope access to our sites and museums provides an opportunity for displaced Albertans to enjoy some activities together during this difficult time.

In 2015-2016, a total of 889,860 people visited provincial heritage facilities ranging from Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump near Fort Macleod to the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin. For a complete listing of all provincially-owned historic sites and museums and their hours of operations please click here.

Season Opening Dates

  • May 15 through Labour Day Weekend (Sept.5):
    • Victoria Settlement (near Smoky…

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Bats represent one in every five species of mammals in the world — there are at least 1,300 living species of bats. Not only are bats diverse, but they can be remarkably abundant with some species living in colonies that number in the millions of individuals. Bats are also geographically widespread. They are known from all continents except Antarctica. The fossil record of bats is both spectacular and disappointing. Spectacular in that some fossil bat species are known from beautifully preserved skeletons; disappointing because only a small percentage of what was almost certainly a very large radiation is preserved in the fossil record. Over 100 fossil bat species have been described known only as fossils. If fossil representatives of living genera and species are included, then that number soars to nearly 600 species known as fossils.

In his talk, Dr. Gregg Gunnell from Duke University explores the origins of bats taxonomically, temporally, and geographically. Some of the oldest bats are also among the best known, often being represented by nearly complete skeletons; however, all of these early archaic forms do not belong to any living bat group. It is nearly five- million years after the first bats appear that the first species representing crown group bat families can be recognized. Climate change, in conjunction with changes in food resource distribution and abundance, will be explored as possible explanations for the rapid Palaeogene diversification and diffusion of bats across the globe.

One of the most intriguing and enduring aspects of dinosaurs is their extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period. After decades of research into this topic, most palaeontologists can agree on several details regarding the dinosaur mass-extinction. First, the extinction was due, at least in part, to an asteroid impact with the Earth at the end of the Cretaceous. Second, not all dinosaurs went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous. A group of small, feathered, and very specialized dinosaurs survived, and actually thrived – today we just call these birds.

Despite the relative agreement on these areas, there is still ongoing debate between palaeontologists regarding other aspects of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. Two of these hotly debated questions include:

  1. Was the dinosaur extinction a sudden, catastrophic event, or were dinosaurs already on the decline prior to the impact?
  2. Why did birds survive the extinction when so many closely related, and very similar, dinosaur groups died out completely?

A new scientific article published today in the journal Current Biology investigates these questions. The scientific team was led by Derek Larson, Assistant Curator at the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, Wembley, Alberta, who completed the research as a PhD student at the University of Toronto. Also on the team are co-authors Dr. Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller, and Dr. David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

The team concentrated on a group of small meat-eating dinosaurs known as maniraptorans – a group that includes modern birds, and dinosaurs like Velociraptor and Dromaeosaurus. Because these dinosaurs are smaller, rare, and generally more incomplete than their larger counterparts, their response to the end-Cretaceous extinction has been less well-studied. Due to the rarity of well-preserved skeletons, the team decided to use teeth; specifically, they measured the teeth and tracked how they changed through time. These dinosaurs (like sharks today) constantly shed teeth throughout their lifetime, so as a result, one animal could contribute hundreds of teeth to fossil record. Teeth are also very useful, because their shape is related to the diet of the animal. Look at an animal’s teeth, and you get a good idea of what it eats. Despite the rarity of complete skeletons, the team had many teeth to sample, and in the end they were able to measure more than 3,000 teeth from four different groups of maniraptorans. These teeth did not come from one fossil deposit, but actually spanned rocks for the 18 million years preceding the Cretaceous mass-extinction.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Maniraptoran Teeth – This image depicts representative teeth from the four groups of bird-like dinosaurs (including toothed birds) analyzed in this study, with enlarged images of tooth serrations. Scale = 1 mm. Photo credit: Don Brinkman. Modified from Larson et al. 2010. Can. J. Earth Sci. 47: 1159-1181.


The ultimate goal of the project was to assign all of these teeth to successive time bins, and then track how their shape changed through time right up to the extinction event. If these dinosaurs were in steady decline, we would expect the variety of tooth shapes to decrease up to the extinction event, but if the extinction was sudden, the tooth shapes would be relatively constant through time. After crunching the numbers, the end result is that the disparity of the teeth (a fancy way of saying how different they are from each other in terms of shape) shows no decline leading up the extinction event. This means that, at least for the small meat-eating dinosaurs, the extinction was sudden.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Tooth Disparity Through Time – A plot of tooth disparity (shape variation) thought the last 20 million years of the Cretaceous from the four groups of bird-like dinosaurs analyzed in this study. Image credit Larson et al., 2016 Current Biology.

But what does this research say about why birds survived the extinction? After looking at so many teeth, the team realized that the difference might be that those birds that survived the extinction did not have teeth, but had toothless beaks. This means that while most of these small dinosaurs with sharp teeth needed to eat meat regularly, the beaked birds might have been able to eat seeds.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Cretaceous Bird-Like Dinosaurs – A number of bird-like dinosaurs reconstructed in their environment in the Hell Creek Formation at the end of the Cretaceous. Middle ground and background: two different dromaeosaurid species hunting vertebrate prey (a lizard and a toothed bird). Foreground: hypothetical toothless bird closely related to the earliest modern birds. Image credit: Danielle Dufault.

This is important because seeds are very good at lying dormant for long periods of time. If the ecosystems collapsed following the impact, and most resources were limited, there would still have been lots of seeds to eat. The same thing is seen today—when a forest fire clears out a section of forest, the first birds to return to the area are seed-eaters. To test this idea, the team mapped seed-eating diets onto a family tree of birds and showed that many of the bird groups that survived the extinction would likely have had ancestors that ate seeds. Whether or not this idea holds up over time will depend on future scientists finding more fossil birds and testing these ideas.


A link to the press release is available here:

A link to the scientific paper is available here:

Reference: Larson, D.W., Brown, C.M., and Evans, D.C. 2016. Dental disparity and ecological stability in bird-like dinosaurs prior to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction. Current Biology 26, 1–9.

Salamanders are a group of amphibians that are easily recognized by their moderately elongate body and tail, two pairs of limbs, and smooth skin. Southern Alberta is home to two kinds of salamander: the tiger salamander on the plains (including in the Drumheller region) and the long-toed salamander in the foothills and Rocky Mountains. Most of the 700 living species of salamanders occur only in the Northern Hemisphere (e.g., North America, Europe, and Asia) and belong to modern families that originated within the last 100 million years. The prevalence of living salamanders in the Northern Hemisphere suggests salamanders originated and diversified there. By contrast, frogs (which are closely related to salamanders) are more globally distributed and much of their evolutionary history seems to have been centered in the Southern Hemisphere.

Although North American contains about one-half of the living species of salamanders and has an extensive fossil record (including in Alberta), much of what we know about the origins and early evolution of salamanders relies on fossils from older rocks dating back to the Middle Jurassic to Early Cretaceous (about 160 to 100 million years ago) in Europe and Asia. In Asia, ancient salamander fossils are known from Siberia in the northeast and from Middle Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and Kazakhstan in the southwest. In his talk, Dr. Pavel Skutschas from St. Petersburg State University, Russia reviews his work on fossil salamanders from those regions and discusses what those Asian fossils tell us about the early evolutionary history of salamanders.

While humans have been misidentifying fossils for thousands of years, right back to the primitive Britons with their Devil’s toenails (Gryphea bivalves), fairie hearts (heart urchins), and petrified serpents (ammonites), there are certain horrendous mistakes that the palaeontological community will never forget. Some are quite intentional, where fake fossils have been created to deceive innocent collectors and scientists; in other cases, a particular fossil has been completely misinterpreted as representing a different type of animal or even turned out not to be a fossil at all. Sometimes the animal has been reconstructed with parts of the body upside down, back to front or, in extreme cases, with the wrong head. Finally, there are times when an innocent fossil has been used to promote particular agendas or ideologies.

This talk counts down the top twelve fossil failures over two-hundred years and includes everything from Piltdown Man to plesiosaur heads, chimeric dinosaurs to Charnia. Prepare to be astonished by the audacity, gullibility, and simple carelessness of the people that have made those fossil misidentifications.

The Cretaceous-Palaeogene (K-Pg) mass extinction is one of the most famous extinction events in Earth’s history, most notably as it marked the end of the Age of Dinosaurs approximately 66 million years ago. Although it is widely known that dinosaurs were wiped out during this event, many other types of animals also went extinct at the same time, both in the oceans and on land, resulting in the disappearance of nearly seventy-five percent of all species on Earth. Despite frequent claims of “ground-breaking discoveries,” the exact details of the K-Pg mass extinction remain shrouded in mystery. Ongoing research by palaeontologists and Earth scientists aims to elucidate how rapidly species went extinct, the reason(s) why some species disappeared while others survived, and what was/were the cause(s) of the mass extinction event.

In this talk, the Museum’s own Dr. François Therrien, Curator of Dinosaur Palaeoecology, will present an overview of the current state of knowledge about the K-Pg mass extinction and attempt to answer the question: “What killed the dinosaurs?”


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