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SCIENCE AND TECH

3 MIN

5 Minutes With... ROM Dino Guy, Dr. David Evans

It’s not every day that a museum unveils a new dinosaur for display, let alone the skeleton of a newly discovered species. So when, on one January morning, crews at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto uncrated its newest dinosaur – part of the Ceratopsidae family and dubbed Wendiceratops pinhornensis – Dr. David Evans had every right to be a bit giddy.

Evans, the ROM’s Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, led the group of paleontologists that uncovered this extraordinary find deep in Alberta’s Badlands and this opening of the Dino Unearthed exhibit was the first time it was seen by the public. And aside from this being an historic moment for Canadian paleontology, the moment was met with additional fanfare.

This event was also the launch of Dino Hunt Canada, a four-part mini-series from History Canada that follows, among other fossil finders, Evans and his team as they painstakingly lifted the 79-million-year-old beast from the ground. The show also invited people to name this new national treasure, and provided a glimpse into the process through a digital experience.

Here, Dr. David Evans describes, in his own words, what exactly was found amid the hills of the Badlands, why it’s so spectacular, and how it all came together at break-neck speed.

ROM

Dr. David Evans, Curator, Vertebrate Palaeontology (Dinosaurs)

“This dinosaur was found by one of our team members in 2010. When we saw the bones of the skull coming out we knew instantly that we had something special because the bones that were exposed were parts of the frill (or neck shield), which is where the most important features that distinguish horned dinosaurs are found. That summer we found more of the frill and we found parts where we could positively distinguish this as a brand new species of dinosaur. The bone bed was at the base of a 90-foot almost vertical hill. The next field season five people spent five weeks jack hammering that hill every day. So, one year we didn’t actually collect any bones because we had to move probably hundreds of tons of rock from above the fossil bearing layer. That was frustrating because we knew we had something that was really exciting, but we had to earn it.

“That was when the History Channel project started to gel. We were pretty sure that we had something new and asked if they want to come along and film a new dinosaur being uncovered for the first time.

“It’s an amazing find. Very rare. Most dinosaur species we know from only fragments of a skeleton, even sometimes a part of a single bone. We’ve recovered almost 200 bones of this dino that represent over 40% of the entire skeleton. So not only do we have the remains of a new species, but we have an incredible record of what that animal looked like. In fact it’s one of our best-represented early members of the family that include triceratops. It provides us with an amazing wealth of new information on the early evolution of that very famous group of dinosaurs.

“Our dinosaur is special. It has the oldest record of a nose horn in horned dinosaurs. The nose horn is very characteristic of the entire group but this is the earliest evidence of it and it tells a lot about how that particular characteristic ornamentation evolved.

“We prepared this dinosaur in five months. It would usually take two to three years to prepare the whole skeleton of a dinosaur this size (about as big as a white rhino). What made this process go so fast is the resources we were able to garner as a team. Technology doesn’t accelerate the process. The only way to accelerate the process of getting the fossils out of the rock, stabilizing and cleaning and having it ready for display it is having more people under the microscope, chipping away the rock and conserving the bones. But with our partnership with History Channel, we were able to put three people working full time on preparing the bones and the skeleton. This has allows us to accelerate our research on the dinosaur. In fact, we’re in a very strange situation where the exhibit has preceded the research."

Published Tuesday, February 10th 2015

Header image credit: Rae Ann Fera

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