Dr. Philip J. Currie, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta
Over the last few years, staff and students of the University of Alberta dinosaur research program has focused most of their prospecting attention in some of the more inaccessible areas of Dinosaur Provincial Park, especially those that have not been well explored up to now. In 2010, we worked mostly on the north side of the Red Deer River close to the eastern boundary of the park. The valley walls and cliffs are generally steep in this region, which explains why so few specimens have been found there in the past.
During three weeks in late May and early June, we collected 75 individual bones that have all been catalogued into the University of Alberta Laboratory of Vertebrate Paleontology (UALVP) collections. Although people generally think that isolated bones are not important, they can be very important for research.
For example, a fist-sized isolated specimen collected near the park's eastern boundary in 1982 proved to be the proof that a chicken-sized meat-eating dinosaur lived in the region 75 million years ago. In 2009, this fossil became the name-bearer for a new species called Hesperonychus elizabethae, and is the smallest known dinosaur from the park. Distantly related to Velociraptor from Mongolia, it was closely related to one of China's feathered dinosaurs called Microraptor. These dinosaurs were previously known only from Asia.
The most significant isolated specimen recovered by our crew in 2010 was a beautiful Troodon skull roof found by technician Susan Kagan. The lower side of the skull cap shows the top of the large brain cavity of this meat-eating dinosaur, which is the brainiest dinosaur known, based on relative brain size to overall body size.
In addition to the isolated bones, our brief field season was marked by three skeletons that were outstandingly good discoveries.
During our first week of prospecting I was fortunate to come across a "baby" ceratopsian (horned) dinosaur. Since retrieving it from the field, technician Clive Coy has worked tirelessly on the specimen, and preparation is nearing completion, with work already underway on the scientific paper. It is a stunning specimen and plans are in progress to put it on public display at the University of Alberta.
The second skeleton is a tyrannosaurid, found by longtime volunteer Stuart Plotkin. This large carnivore is in a semi-articulated state, meaning many of the fossilized bones are in the same position as the original bones were at the time of death. It was situated low in section and not far from the "baby". Only part of this skeleton was collected because of time constraints, and we will return to collect the rest in 2011.
The third specimen of note is a full-grown Styracosaurus, a ceratopsian that is rather rare that was found by Dr. Eva Koppelhus during the last week of the regular field season. The skull of that specimen has been uncovered on one side, but it will probably not be ready for research and display until 2012.