Ready for Liftoff

      In the badlands of southeastern Alberta sits a horned dinosaur skull, awaiting liftoff.

      My crew and I found it a couple of years ago, and it proved to be the most exciting find of the season. The skull was eroding out of a mudstone wall, with the characteristic frill pointing outwards, and the snout projecting inwards. As usual, we had stumbled upon it with less than a week left of fieldwork, so my small team was only able to partially expose the skull before we had to ship out. Still, we were happy with what we uncovered so far: the partial frill and face of the long-horned ceratopsid, Chasmosaurus canadensis. This is a particularly rare species whose validity and evolutionary relationships are subject to debate, so we hoped that this latest find might prove helpful in some way.

Our treasured Chasmosaurus canadensis skull. The frill is towards the top, and the snout towards the bottom. You can see the elongate right brow horn projecting to the right. Field assistant Margaret Currie for scale.

      We returned last year to finish excavating the skull, which took some time, given that it was under almost ten feet of overburden. But we were delighted to find that the skull continued right up to the tip of the snout, so was relatively complete. After manipulating the skull for packaging with burlap and plaster, we came to realize that the specimen likely weighed somewhere on the order of a ton or more… perhaps not surprising, given that these horned dinosaurs had the largest skulls of any land-dwelling animal. Anyway, given the precipitousness of the local terrain, there was no way to get a vehicle to the site for transportation, and the weight of the package prevented us from safely carrying it out of the badlands. We would need a helicopter.

      That brings us this year’s fieldwork. My crew and I were in Alberta again just a few weeks ago, preparing the skull for the anticipated lift I had arranged months earlier. After reinforcing the plater jacket and rolling it into a cargo net, we were on pins and needles as we awaited the helicopter and the final rescue of our prized fossil.

Yours truly with the skull in a helicopter cargo net.

      But it was not to be.

      Sadly, the helicopter company cancelled on us twice, at the last minute, on account of the weather. Rain one day, and fog the next. To say we felt dejected is an understatement, but we persist. The lift has been rescheduled for late September when the weather is a little more stable, and rain and fog are of less concern. I guess it goes to show the unpredictability of fieldwork, and that even careful planning can’t circumvent the weather. Hopefully my next blog post will regale you with our successful extraction!

Posted by Jordan Mallon, Canadian Museum of Nature

Posted: 8/28/2017 1:39:38 PM by mallonjordanadmin | with 0 comments
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