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Jun 19 2010

Giant Alberta bonebed gives insight into mass fossilizations

A 2.3 square kilometer area about 50km north of Medicine Hat, with thousands of Centrosaurus brinkmani bones, has recently been unearthed, providing some insight into massive fossilization events.

Centrosaurus - Mark Schultz, 2005

“Data from this mega bonebed provide pretty clear evidence that these and other dinosaurs were routinely wiped out by catastrophic tropical storms that flooded what was once a coastal lowland here in Alberta, 76 million years ago,” said David Eberth, a senior research scientist at the museum, the lead author on the study and one of the book’s three editors.

Rather than picturing the animals as drowning while crossing a river, a classic scenario that has been used to explain bonebed occurrences at many sites in Alberta, the research team interpreted the vast coastal landscape as being submerged during tropical storms or hurricanes.

With no high ground to escape to, most of the members of the herd drowned in the rising coastal waters. Carcasses were deposited in clumps across kilometres of ancient landscape as floodwaters receded.

“It’s unlikely that these animals could tread water for very long, so the scale of the carnage must have been breathtaking,” said Mr. Eberth. “The evidence suggests that after the flood, dinosaur scavengers trampled and smashed bones in their attempt to feast on the rotting remains.”

While fossilization events are rare, they do happen, obviously. This giant cache of bones provides invaluable data in researching Earth’s ancient past. It explains how larger clumps of fossils could conceivably have been deposited, e.g. by flash-flooding due to hurricanes, and it also proves that Centrosaurus travelled in large herds like prehistoric, armored reptilian buffalo.

It’s all about the evidence. We can’t travel back in time and see it for ourselves, so we have to collect data and extrapolate to find out more about our planet’s last owners. I love this stuff!

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Glendon Mellow

    [Credit the illustrator - all the cool kids are doing it.]

  2. 2
    Jason Thibeault

    Have been making a point to link to where I got it, but you’re right, not only was the link broken, but I should also include the text credit where I know it. And it’s obvious from this image, as it’s stamped Mark Schultz 2005.

    I couldn’t find a primary source for this image, however Schultz has another print available for purchase over at Paleoblog.

    Thanks for keeping me honest, Glendon. :)

  3. 3
    Glendon Mellow

    I see it now, but didn’t in my reader…

    Sorry Jason. Not tryin’ to be a jerk.

  4. 4
    Jason Thibeault

    Not at all. You’re well in the right, and I didn’t think you were being jerkish. I edited the caption into the blog post after you pointed it out, and corrected the link so it goes to the article where I pulled the sketch. The text didn’t show up on the cropped-square thumbnail, but it was on the full-sized one at the original article.

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