Home Museum institution Fossils unearthed a century ago and rediscovered wrapped in an old newspaper

Fossils unearthed a century ago and rediscovered wrapped in an old newspaper


A stash of rediscovered dinosaur bones wrapped in century-old journals should reveal two pasts: one set in the 1920s and the oldest paleontology at the University of Alberta, the other some 70 years ago. million years.

“It’s always a surprise to find these bones that have been lying in the ground for millions of years, but here we have a second surprise when we find them,” said Clive Coy, a paleontology researcher at the Faculty of Science.

Handwriting on the specimens suggests the trait was part of the 1920 and 1921 expeditions to what is now Dinosaur Provincial Park, led by the University of America’s first paleontologist, George Sternberg.

A handwritten label on one of the fossils found wrapped in newspapers suggests it was unearthed during expeditions in the early 1920s. (Photo courtesy of Clive Coy)
The approximately 20 pieces were pulled from a back shelf in a quonset on the south campus of the University of Alberta. About the size of an apple to a melon, they are wrapped in several layers of newspaper and tied with twine. Based on the labeling, Coy estimates that the bones were stored in the quonset in the late ’60s or early’ 70s.

Potentially rare find

Coy is particularly interested in one of them titled “three turtle skulls from the quarry where numbers eight to 18 were collected”.

“Turtle skulls are extremely rare, and given their age and keeping in the journal, they could be quite significant,” he said.

Coy said dating the bones would be a challenge. When these bones were discovered 100 years ago, paleontologists at the time assumed that the Judith River deposit in southern Alberta and Montana was a single large deposit.

We now know that the top layer is a marine deposit that came in at the end of the Cretaceous, when this part of the world was inundated by an ocean, Coy said. Turtles most likely date from an even older time, the so-called Dinosaur Park Formation, which existed between 72 and 76 million years ago.

Unboxing the story

Although he could unwrap the package of turtle skulls to take a look at them, Coy said the rest of the specimens were more valuable as historical artifacts.

“If we unwrap them, like a mummy, we end up with a bone in a box, and I don’t know if that will add much to our knowledge. But as part of the U of A’s historic past, this is where the greatest value lies.

Regardless of any scientific value they may have, the rediscovered specimens offer insight into the U of A’s beginnings in paleontology. (Photo courtesy of Clive Coy)
Sternberg owes his beginnings at the University of Alberta to John Allan, the university’s first geologist, who had the vision of building a collection of fossil flora and fauna for the people of Alberta.

Until the start of World War I, the federal and provincial governments of the day chose not to control the foreign entities that collected fossils from Alberta – which were sent by rail out of the badlands as quickly as ‘they could be unearthed as part of the Great Rush of the Dinosaurs from 1910 to 1918.

“There was a time when, if you wanted to see dinosaurs from Alberta, you had to go to Stuttgart, Paris, New York or London,” Coy said.

Allan was one of the actors who encouraged the government to create a provincial museum in the late 1920s. He also lobbied for the protection of Dead Lodge Canyon or the Steveville Badlands, both located in the eastern region. became Dinosaur Provincial Park in 1952 and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Sternberg, who was part of a famous American family of fossil hunters, was in Canada during the war years to collect fossils for the Geological Survey of Canada.

To help attract Sternberg to college, Allan bought a collection that Sternberg himself had independent and hired him in 1919 to prepare this material.

It was a precursor to the famous expeditions of 1920 and 1921 led by Sternberg with graduate student in geology from the University of America William “Bill” Kelly.

Almost as quickly as the university’s nascent paleontological efforts took off, they were grounded when Sternberg left for the Chicago Field Museum in 1922. Nothing would be done at the university for the Sternberg dinosaurs until ‘in 1934, when Allan accessed money from the Carnegie funds to rehire Sternberg and his son to complete what had started in 1919 – which included founding the university’s Dino Lab.

In 1935, the U of A hosted the first dinosaur exhibit at a public institution west of Toronto, on the third floor of the Fine Arts Building. It remained there for two decades until it was moved to the basement of the Geology Building, headquarters of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, where it has since rested.

Today, the Sternberg Museum of Natural History at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas is named after George and his family of fossil hunters. Sternberg’s protégé Kelly would become one of the early pioneers in the development of aerial photography for economic mineral exploration. Allan remained in charge of the geology department at U of A until his retirement in 1949.

Today, the university’s Vertebrate Paleontology Lab is one of 30 museum collections recorded on campus and has approximately 65,000 specimens, the first of which are now in Coy’s lab wrapped in newsprint. .

“Sternberg and Kelly would have been the last people to see the specimens inside this log in the past 100 years,” Coy said.

“There is a historical interest in our legacy here at the university, tied to the earliest story of how we rose up and were the first publicly funded institution in Alberta to do this kind of. thing. “

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