Fossils in Focus: New Research, New Discoveries

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Each fall we refresh our Fossils in Focus exhibit with a new selection of specimens. The exhibit reopens this Thanksgiving weekend. Fossils in Focus highlights significant fossils from our vast collection. Only a fraction of our research collection—less than 1%—is currently on display. This year features new research and new discoveries, providing us with a stronger scientific understanding of ancient Alberta’s diversity of animal life.


Not All Eggs Belong in the Same Basket

Research Question: What dinosaurs lived in southwestern Alberta near the end of the Age of Dinosaurs?

-Dr. François Therrien, Curator of Dinosaur

Dinosaur eggs did not all look like chicken eggs. There were different shapes, sizes, and textures.

Dinosaur eggs did not all look like chicken eggs. There were different shapes, sizes, and textures.

More dinosaur species are found in Alberta than anywhere else in the world. Since the early 1900s, fossils from about 20 dinosaur species have been discovered in the Drumheller area, and 50 species from Dinosaur Provincial Park.  However, little is known about the dinosaurs that lived in the southwestern part of the province.

Dr. Therrien and his colleagues have discovered about 600 eggshell fragments from nine individual sites in southwestern Alberta. The dinosaur eggshell fragments had different thicknesses, microscopic internal structures, and surface textures: some were smooth, but others had bumps, ridges, and grooves.

Most eggshells and eggs cannot be assigned to a particular dinosaur species so they have their own scientific classification called ootaxonomy. These illustrations show which dinosaur species the eggs may have been from.

Most eggshells and eggs cannot be assigned to a particular dinosaur species so they have their own scientific classification called ootaxonomy. These illustrations show which dinosaur species the eggs may have been from.

Dr. Therrien and his colleagues have determined that at least nine dinosaur species lived in southwestern Alberta at the end of the Cretaceous Period. This includes small theropods and ceratopsians, hadrosaurs, and Tyrannosaurus rex. This new species count is three times greater than the number of previously known dinosaurs based on fossil bones. This exciting discovery indicates that there are more dinosaurs left to discover in southwestern Alberta.


After a Long While, Crocodile

Research Question: What kinds of crocodiles lived in Alberta at the end of the Cretaceous Period?

-Dr. Don Brinkman, Director of Research & Preservation

Albertosuchus knudsenii. 66 million years old. Late Cretaceous, Scollard Formation. Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park, Alberta.

Albertosuchus knudsenii. 66 million years old. Late Cretaceous, Scollard Formation. Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park, Alberta.

Crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gharials are the world’s largest living reptiles. They belong to the order known as , or crocodilians. Although crocodiles are well represented in the Late Cretaceous, most of the fossil remains are isolated teeth. These teeth cannot be assigned to a particular species, as the teeth of different crocodiles are very similar in form.

An illustration showing the bones of Albertosuchus and what they look like when articulated.

An illustration showing the bones of Albertosuchus and what they look like when articulated.

The discovery of a skull and partial skeleton of a new crocodilian, Albertosuchus knudsenii, provides the first evidence of the types of crocodiles that lived in Alberta at the very end of the Cretaceous Period, 66 million years ago. The specimen is 70% complete, and includes a skull and mandible (lower jaw) and part of the body. Comparing this specimen to other crocodiles shows that it is more closely related to the living Crocodylus than the living alligator.


Our Own Badlands Backyard

Research Question: Does the Drumheller area still provide us with new discoveries?

-Dr. Francois Therrien, Curator of Dinosaur Palaeoecology
-Dr. Caleb Brown, Betsy Nicholls Postdoctoral Fellow

Edmontosaurus regalis. 71 million years old. Late Cretaceous, Horseshoe Canyon Formation. Found near Drumheller, Alberta.

Edmontosaurus regalis. 71 million years old. Late Cretaceous, Horseshoe Canyon Formation. Found near Drumheller, Alberta.

Our scientists work in locations all around the world, but most of their time is spent uncovering Alberta’s ancient past. Sometimes, they don’t have to go far from the Museum to find something exceptional.

Members of the public reported this Edmontosaurus skull in 2017, just 18 km from the Museum. It is the first complete skull of this common species of hadrosaur discovered in Alberta in over 50 years.

Anchiceratops ornatus frill. 70.5 million years old. Late Cretaceous, Horseshoe Canyon Formation. From an Anchiceratops bonebed near Drumheller, Alberta.]

Anchiceratops ornatus frill. 70.5 million years old. Late Cretaceous, Horseshoe Canyon Formation. From an Anchiceratops bonebed near Drumheller, Alberta.

One of our field crews prospecting during their lunch hour also discovered an Anchiceratops bonebed in the same area. Anchiceratops was a horned dinosaur, related to Triceratops. This is an example of its frill (parietal) that extended from the back of the head, and is the diagnostic part of the animal.

Even though we have found many dinosaur species in the Red Deer River valley and the badlands, these two specimens indicate there are more fossils to yet to be discovered in the Drumheller area.


All of these specimens give us a deeper insight into life in Alberta millions of years ago, and reflect the wide diversity of ancient life and current palaeontological research. For a full list of specimens, please visit our website.

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