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Hello! We are palaeontologists from the Royal Tyrrell Museum and are currently studying the best preserved armoured dinosaur in the world. Ask us anything!
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r/Science AMAs
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Hello, we are scientists from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta Canada. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of paleontology and has one of the world’s largest collections of fossils, with over 160,000 specimens in our research collection. Dr. Donald Henderson is the Curator of Dinosaurs. Donald’s research focus is all about dinosaurs. His research has focused on a variety of different subjects, such as the rates of fossil erosion in Dinosaur Provincial Park, biomechanical comparison of the bite force and skull strengths in ceratopsian dinosaurs, and dinosaur buoyancy. Dr. Caleb Brown is the Betsy Nicholls Post-Doctoral Fellow. Caleb’s research investigates taphonomy, specifically the role of depositional environments in shaping our understanding of ancient ecosystems, and the morphological variation in the horns and ornamentation structures of horned dinosaurs. In 2011, a worker at the SUNCOR Millennium Mine near Fort McMurray unearthed a significant specimen and contacted the Museum. We dispatched a team to extract it and discovered that it was a dinosaur. This was unusual because the rock around Fort McMurray is part of the Clearwater Formation, which is the sediment of an inland sea that covered Alberta during the Cretaceous Period. Generally, only fossils of marine reptiles and other marine species are found in that area. We discovered that the specimen was a nodosaur, a type of armoured dinosaur that does not have a tail club. It took five and a half years to prepare the specimen and it is the best preserved armoured dinosaur ever found, as well as being the oldest dinosaur known from Alberta at approximately 112 million years old. Named Borealopelta markmitchelli, this nodosaur is preserved in 3-Dimensions with the body armour and scales in place, as well as organic residues that were once part of the skin, giving us an idea what it looked like when alive. National Geographic has done a 3D interactive model of the specimen that shows you how well preserved this specimen is. We assembled a research team with colleagues from the US and UK, bringing in geochemists to help analyze the fossil skin. Geochemical tests showed an abundance of preserved organic molecules. Among them is benzothiazole, a component of the pigment pheomelanin, suggesting that Borealopelta might have been reddish-brown when alive. These findings were published in Current Biology this past August and are open access. New research by Caleb published in PeerJ (open access) on November 29, analyzes the bony cores and keratinous sheaths that make up the body armour. Due to the unique preservation of soft tissue, Caleb was able to analyze the relation between the horn core and the keratinous sheath, and compare the horn sheaths to the horns of living mammals and lizards. Ask us anything about Borealopelta, our research, palaeontology, dinosaurs, or the Royal Tyrrell Museum! We will be back at 2 p.m. EST to answer questions. EDIT: Thank you for all your questions! We will be checking back over the next week to answer any new ones.