Indiana Jones has nothing on Nathan Hrushkin.
That’s because back in July, the 12-year-old Calgary resident went fossil hunting with his dad Dion, and hit paydirt, when he found a fossil of a 69-million-year-old hadrosaur in the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Nodwell property at Horseshoe Canyon.
“I know that it’s more commonly known as the duck-billed dinosaur,” said Hrushkin. “They have the bills almost like ducks and they’re herbivores and they stand on two feet – that sort of thing.”
Nathan and his dad, Dion, have been coming to the site west of Drumheller for years and are always on the hunt for fossils. Nathan made the discovery in July.
“I never expected to find (anything) significant like this,” said Hrushkin senior. “But we always hoped we’d come across a tooth or a bone fragment or something just to keep (Nathan) interested in geology and keep him interested in being outside.”
While hadrosaurs are the most common fossils found in Alberta’s Badlands, this particular specimen is noteworthy because few juvenile skeletons have been recovered and also because of its location in the strata or the rock formation. Fossil discoveries are rare in this geological layer.
“This is very significant for the Nature Conservancy of Canada because when we talk about land conservation we talk often about the benefit for future generations but this is a really good opportunity to point out how conserving important landscapes also help us unearth mysteries of our planet’s history,” said Carys Richards the communications manager with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
Francois Therrien is the curator of dinosaur palaeontology at the Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology and says hadrosaurs were common in their time, something like deer are today. A full grown animal would be 10 to 13 metres in length. Nathan’s dinosaur is young and likely only three to four metres in length.
“So Nathan’s discovery is actually significant because it starts to fill in that gap,” said Therrien. “It’s a fossil from that area and from that time interval that will actually give us information about what was happening with dinosaurs 69 million years ago.”
Fossils protected by law
Fossils are protected by law in Alberta and according to the museum the Hrushkins are a perfect example of what to do when someone discovers fossils: take photos of the bones, record their location using a GPS or Google Earth, report the find to the Royal Tyrrell Museum and, most importantly, leave the fossils undisturbed in the ground because much information is lost when they are removed from their location.
After months of work by technicians from the museum the bones are in protective plaster jackets and being moved out of the canyon to the museum where they’ll be worked on for well over a year.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada site is home to many at-risk plant and animal species. It’s named after Leila Nodwell, who passed away in April 2000. The Nodwell family entrusted the lands to NCC in her memory. Leila believed deeply in the importance of maintaing the canyon’s natural state and worked for many years as an interpreter, where she introduced visitors to its many unique features.
The dinosaur bones were discovered on Nature Conservancy of Canada conservation lands and not the Horsehoe Canyon municipal property.
Nathan says he and his dad will keep searching for fossils.
“I’ve been aspiring to be a palaeontologist for pretty much as long as I can remember,” he said, “so it’s pretty amazing to finally find something real that’s like big.”