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sually, when you read about a paleontological discovery you expect to see the bones of a dinosaur, but not the intact corpse. What you see in the image above is a nodosaur fossil and the most pristine dinosaur fossil discovered to date. Within the very thick and petrified skin of the dinosaur are also all the bones intact. Paleontologists were sure that they will never see dinosaurs in such good conditions and yet this discovery came as the biggest surprise in the last 150 years of paleontology.

The accidental discovery

What is even more interesting is that the discovery was not even made by archeologists, it was actually made by a miner. The nodosaur corpse measuring 18 feet long (5.5 meters) and missing his tail was found in the Suncor Millennium Mine in Alberta. Two workers working on an excavator that was mining for charcoal and oil sands found something that seemed very tough. A big piece of rock (what the workers identified it as) was discovered by them. After a closer look and a clean-up, they saw a resemblance to a dinosaur.

Based on the analysis done by paleontologists within the stomach of the dinosaur, they confirmed that this was in fact a Nodosaurus, a close cousin of the more familiar Ankylosaurus. To study the nodosaur’s last meal, researchers made slides out of a few ping pong-ball-size chunks of the fossilized stomach content. They found that leaves accounted for nearly 88% of the plant material, and less than 7% comprised stems and wood. Charcoal accounted for about 6%. Although scary looking, the Nodosaurus species are herbivores, and their thick armor-like skin protected them from carnivorous creatures.

The nodosaur Borealopelta markmitchelli preferred to munch on a particular type of fern, an analysis of its fossilized stomach contents reveals. (Source: Illustration by Julius Csotonyi/Copyright Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology )

The image above represents what the dinosaur looked like when it was alive. Based on the carbon dating, the dinosaur could be at least 100 million years old. The discovery may have been easy, but the recovery of the fossil itself was quite difficult. Upon discovery, the miners only found the head and did not proceed to further mine as they would have ruined the fossil. Therefore experts came into play and in order to carefully dig out the piece and remove it from the mine they spent almost 7,000 hours spanning over 6 years.

Although the discovery was made in 2011, it was only presented in 2017 to the public. Even to this day, pathologists from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology are still analyzing the fossil to paint a better picture of what life was like for these sorts of creatures 100 million years ago. The full name of this specific fossil is Nodosaurus Borelopelta Markmichelli and this is because Mark Michelli was the one who worked the longest to recover this piece.

How did the fossil stay intact for so long?

Any sort of organism must decompose with time once it has passed away, but something very interesting happened with this dinosaur. A natural sort of mummification process took place millions of years ago and the fossil project gives an interesting representation of how this could have happened.

The process is called taphonomic and it includes the following 5 stages: There are five main stages of taphonomy: disarticulation, dispersal, accumulation, fossilization, and mechanical alteration. The way experts think this dinosaur made it so far is by him dying next to the coast of a shallow inland seaway in Alberta that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Artic Ocean. The dinosaur either died drowning or next to the coast and was taken by the water. The dinosaur would have most likely floated just like a dead fish and due to the high heat that was predominant in those prehistoric times the body decomposed and filled with gas.

After the bloating effect took place, the corpse would have exploded and sunk to the bottom of the seaway where the conditions would be so bad that no scavengers would consume what was left of the corpse. After millions of years, the corpse started the natural mummification process and thus it remained intact to be accidentally found by humanity.

Just imagine what else awaits for us to be found on this land. One thing that always baffled me was that as humans we are trying to literally reach for the stars whilst there are still so many things to discover on Earth. I mean 80% of the waters on Earth are still unexplored, who knows what awaits beneath the Ocean bed to be found, or even still alive within these unexplored waters?

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