In 1884, Joseph Burr
Tyrrell climbed down the side of a bank to the Kneehill Creek in
east central Alberta. He was looking for surface coal deposits
for the Geological Survey of Canada. As he turned to climb back
out, he came face to face with an object that would change both
his destiny and that of Alberta. For directly in front of him,
sticking out of the mud, was the skull of a 70-million year old
dinosaur, the likes of which had not yet been discovered. It
would finally be named an Albertosaurus. It was the first example
of the genus found anywhere in the world. Tyrrell was no expert
on dinosaurs. However, he realized the skeleton should be
preserved and had the fossils loaded onto a cart and taken to
Fort Calgary. Soon the word of this discovery spread throughout
the scientific world and the race for dinosaur fossils, soon
known as the "Great Canadian Dinosaur Rush", was on.
More then 100 years after this startling discovery on
Kneehill Creek, a museum, built near the same spot, now honors
the discoverer's name.
While traveling from Calgary to Edmonton, on the east side of Alberta we came across a rugged stretch of land knows as the Canadian Badlands. This visually inspiring valley of the Red Deer River, as it flows through Drumheller is the setting for this story. With shapes and formations similar to the US badlands around the Dakotas, it is known as the dinosaur center of Canada. The center piece for such notable entitlement is the Royal Tyrrell Museum. We had made contact with Marty Hickie, the community relations officer for the Royal Tyrrell Museum and arranged for a meeting for the next day. Upon arrival we were introduced to Giselle Cousineau, a delightful girl who took us behind the scene. Most of the finds either here or in Dinosaur Park south of Drumheller eventually wind up at this museum for evaluation, preservation display or storage. Giselle took us to the first of three rooms, which was the receiving room. Here field specimens are received, evaluated and tagged. They will remain here until it is determined that they should be prepared for viewing. Giselle explained how a specimen gets to the museum. During the summer, several discovery teams are sent out in search of new fossils. Many of the fossils that are found during the summer come from the Dinosaur Provincial park or in the badlands around the museum. It is hoped that a full skeleton will be found but often only single bones are brought back. For a skeleton to be considered complete, 60 percent of the original bones have to be present. After a skeleton is found, a collecting crew is brought in. They will dig a large trench around the fossil. The exposed side of the trench is encased in a mixture of plaster of paris and burlap which is called a field jacket. This will be continued until the entire fossil is included in what looks like a mushroom with a small stem underneath. At this point it is cut off and rolled over on its top, then transported back to the museum. This has been going since the museum was created. The Museum houses 150,000 fossils in its collection, many still wrapped in plaster and encased in rock. There is now over 25 years of work in storage. From here, Giselle took us to the large preparation room. This is where the bulk of the hard work is done. We stopped to examine the opened plaster field jacket of a Duckbilled dinosaur's leg bone. This is a tedious process, removing the plaster cast, and chipping away the sediment until only the bare bone is left. It can take months to complete a single piece. We stopped and talked to Tamaki, one of the technicians who was working to remove rock from around the skeleton of a marine reptile known as a Plesiosaur. She said she had been working with a air scribe, and had been working on this piece for several months. Inside this room there is also a welding shop. The skeletons are fitted with a metal rods which are welded together to form the live action positions presented by some of the displays. Bones are quite brittle when recovered and often glue is used to strengthen them. The sale of original fossils is illegal in Alberta All such items belong to the crown. In order to share the finds with the rest of the world, casts are made of many of the fossils found. This is done by coating the bone with a liquid latex rubber, which is peeled off. A fiberglass outer coating is added to the outside of the rubber mask and an expanding foam is inserted into it. The hardened foam is then painted with a bone colored paint. The finished product is quite authentic looking and can pass the scrutiny of all but the most professional observer.
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