Saturday, October 18, 2014

Two dinosaur toes lead to fossil find in Badlands

Meat-eating biped unearthed on hillside died 75 million years ago

When Clive Coy saw two small fossilized dinosaur toes sticking out the side of a hill in the Badlands, he hoped the remains of an entire animal were waiting to be unearthed.
The fossil of the small, meat-eating biped that Coy and other University of Alberta paleontologists excavated last month appears to be a saurornitholestes, but Coy and lead paleontologist Philip Currie said they haven't studied it enough to provide any details yet.
Back at the U of A, Coy is meticulously cleaning away the ancient mud and sand that have encased the little raptor for 75 million years. He couldn't yet say if it was indeed a complete skeleton.
"Something I've always enjoyed when I'm doing the preparation work is knowing I'm the first human being to see this," said Coy, who is the senior technician in the university's Vertebrate Paleontology Department.
The only mammals in existence in the late Cretaceous era, when Coy's dinosaur was alive, were mouse and opossum-sized creatures, and they were already nothing but fossils when humanity's earliest ancestors emerged.
"This animal is a fossil and now our (mammalian) ancestors are fossils ... Down the evolutionary chain, there's me digging up this creature that died 75 million years ago," Coy said.
Paleontologists Coy, Currie and Eva Koppelhus led last June's expedition with 15 other members of the international Explorers Club.
"We found a lot of good material, (including) half a dozen other skeletons that we need to investigate," Coy said. "This one was promising enough that we made a special trip out two weeks ago to dig down to see what this was."

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