So you’ve found a fossil. Now what?

Whether you were on an active search or just stumbled upon one by accident, it’s important to know what to do when you think you’ve discovered a fossil. In Alberta, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology will be your first point of contact. The basics are fairly straightforward: photograph, locate, leave and report. Follow these steps and who knows, you may be making an important contribution to science and palaeontology!

Here are all the details you need to know when you find a fossil.

The research completed by palaeontologists at the Royal Tyrrell Museum over the past few decades has largely been made possible by the public support the Museum receives each year. Dozens of significant discoveries have been made across the province by members of the public, and over the coming weeks, we’ll highlight some of those amazing discoveries.

First up, one of the most famous dinosaurs skull discoveries in North America. The year is 1980, and two high school students are fishing in the Crowsnest Pass…

1980: ‘Black Beauty’ Tyrannosaurus rex (TMP 1981.006.0001)

The original skull of the Tyrannosaurus rex ‘Black Beauty.’ Source: Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

Two high school students, Jeff Baker and Brad Mercier, were fishing in the Crowsnest Pass in the summer of 1980. With few prospects on the water, Jeff Baker decided to climb a nearby rocky outcrop. He noticed curious black marks in the sandstone, about ten metres above the river. He returned to the river to tell his friend Brad Mercier and the boys examined the rock more closely, recognizing the marks as some sort of fossils. Anxious to investigate further, they returned the next day with friend Peter Koci. They reported the find to their teacher, Renso Castellarin, who notified Dr. Philip Currie at the Provincial Museum of Alberta (now the Royal Alberta Museum). A curator from the museum went to investigate in April 1981, and quickly assessed that it was a tyrannosaur, and based on the large bones that were exposed, likely Tyrannosaurus rex.

Reconstruction of the Tyrannosaurus rex ‘Black Beauty’. Source: Robert Fabiani Jr.

Collection of the find began in 1982. After an arduous excavation and the removal of over 225,000 kilograms of rock, an incredible Tyrannosaurus rex emerged, with one of the best-preserved skulls in the world. The chemical element manganese tinted the bones during fossilization, giving them a rare dark hue—making the find even more remarkable, and earning the specimen the nickname ‘Black Beauty.’

The excavation site of ‘Black Beauty’ near Lundbreck Falls. Source: Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

The T. rex specimen travelled to Tokyo, where Royal Tyrrell Museum technicians prepared the skull in front of an estimated one million visitors during the summer of 1990. The popular dinosaur spent five more years circling the globe, visiting major centres in Japan, Singapore, Australia, and across Canada, before returning home to Alberta.

Despite its impressive size, ‘Black Beauty’ is one of the smallest-known specimens of Tyrannosaurus rex, and as such, its scientific value is unrivalled. Source: Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

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