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January 9, 2013

Ancient fossil found during Fort Mac road work

An earth scraper recently exposed a large fossil on a road construction project in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Dr. Donald Henderson led a Royal Tyrrell Museum crew to Fort McMurray last month to examine and collect the remains of a marine reptile estimated to be 110 million to 114 million years old.

The specimen was found to be a nearly complete long-necked plesiosaur, which lived in the sea that covered most of Alberta during the Cretaceous Period.

Although the skull and one flipper are missing, the rest of the skeleton is complete, including the tail.

The body measures about one metre wide with flippers extending about another one metre to each side.

It is the fourth plesiosaur found in the Fort McMurray area over the last three years.

When the earth scraper exposed the bones, they were examined by an expert from Aeon Paleontological Consulting Ltd., who was on site in accordance with Alberta’s Historical Resources Act.

Flatiron Construction, the project contractor for Alberta Transportation, constructed a wooden frame and tarp structure around the fossil so the ground could be thawed for excavation.

The conditions inside the structure were comfortable during the seven-day process, but temperatures of -35 C with wind chill made loading the fossil onto a truck a challenge.

The fossil was transported to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which is located about six kilometres northwest of Drumheller, for preparation and study.

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