Category Archives: CANADA

The Amazing Dinosaur Found (Accidentally) by Miners in Canada

The Amazing Dinosaur Found (Accidentally) by Miners in Canada

This armored plant-eater lumbered through what is now Western Canada about 110 million years ago until a flooded river swept it into the open sea. The dinosaur’s undersea burial preserved its armor in exquisite detail. Its skull still bears tile-like plates and a gray patina of fossilized skins.

A heavy equipment mechanic named Shawn Funk cut his way through the earth in the afternoon of March 21, 2011, without knowing that he would encounter a dragon soon.

That Monday had started like any other at the Millennium Mine, a vast pit some 17 miles north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, operated by energy company Suncor.

Hour after hour Funk’s towering excavator gobbled its way down to sands laced with bitumen—the transmogrified remains of marine plants and creatures that lived and died more than 110 million years ago. It was the only ancient life he regularly saw. In 12 years of digging he had stumbled across fossilized wood and the occasional petrified tree stump, but never the remains of an animal—and certainly no dinosaurs.

But around 1:30, Funk’s bucket clipped something much harder than the surrounding rock. Oddly colored lumps tumbled out of the till sliding down onto the bank below. Within minutes Funk and his supervisor, Mike Gratton, began puzzling over the walnut brown rocks. Were they strips of fossilized wood, or were they ribs? And then they turned over one of the lumps and revealed a bizarre pattern: row after row of sandy brown disks, each ringed in gunmetal gray stone.

“Right away, Mike was like, ‘We gotta get this checked out,’ ” Funk said in a 2011 interview. “It was definitely nothing we had ever seen before.”

Stretched 18 feet long and weighed nearly 3,000 pounds. Researchers suspect it initially fossilized whole, but when it was found in 2011, only the front half, from the snout to the hips, was intact enough to recover. The specimen is the best fossil of a nodosaur ever found.
A cluster of pebble-like masses may be remnants of the nodosaur’s last meal.
Royal Tyrrell Museum technician Mark Mitchell slowly frees the nodosaur’s foot and scaly footpad from the surrounding rock. Mitchell’s careful work will preserve for years to come the animal’s enigmatic features.

Nearly six years later, I’m visiting the fossil prep lab at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in the windswept badlands of Alberta. The cavernous warehouse swells with the hum of ventilation and the buzz of technicians scraping rock from the bone with needle-tipped tools resembling miniature jackhammers. But my focus rests on a 2,500-pound mass of stone in the corner.

At first glance, the reassembled gray blocks look like a nine-foot-long sculpture of a dinosaur. A bony mosaic of armor coats its neck and back, and gray circles outline individual scales. Its neck gracefully curves to the left, as if reaching toward some tasty plant. But this is no lifelike sculpture. It’s an actual dinosaur, petrified from the snout to the hips.

The more I look at it, the more mind-boggling it becomes. Fossilized remnants of skin still cover the bumpy armor plates dotting the animal’s skull. Its right forefoot lies by its side, its five digits splayed upward. I can count the scales on its sole. Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum, grins at my astonishment. “We don’t just have a skeleton,” he tells me later. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”

During its burial at sea, the nodosaur settled onto its back, pressing the dinosaur’s skeleton into the armor and embossing it with the outlines of some bones. One ripple in the armor traces the animal’s right shoulder blade.

Paleobiologist Jakob Vinther, an expert on animal coloration from the U.K.’s University of Bristol, has studied some of the world’s best fossils for signs of the pigment melanin. But after four days of working on this one—delicately scraping off samples smaller than flecks of grated Parmesan—even he is astounded. The dinosaur is so well preserved that it “might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago,” Vinther says. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Shielded from Decayarmored dinosaurs’ trademark plates usually scattered early in decay, a fate that didn’t befall this nodosaur. The remarkably preserved armor will deepen scientists’ understanding of what nodosaurs looked like and how they moved.

“That was a really exciting discovery,” says Victoria Arbour, an armoured-dinosaur palaeontologist at Canada’s Royal Ontario Museum. Arbour has seen the fossil at various stages of preparation, but she’s not involved in its study. “It represents such a different environment from today and such a different time, and it has great preservation.” (Arbour has begun studying a similarly well-preserved ankylosaur found in Montana in 2014, much of which remains hidden within a 35,000-pound block of stone.

Arbour and her colleague David Evans published a description of the Montana ankylosaur, naming it Zuul crurivastator—”Zuul, destroyer of shins”—after the monster in the film Ghostbusters.)

A lucky break in the nodosaur’s left shoulder spike reveals a cross-section of its bony core. The spike’s tip was sheathed in keratin, the same material that’s in human fingernails.

The afterword of the discovery raced up the ladder at Suncor, the company quickly notified the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Henderson and Darren Tanke, one of the museum’s veteran technicians, scrambled aboard a Suncor jet and flew to Fort McMurray. Suncor excavators and museum staff chipped away at the rock in 12-hour shifts, shrouded in dust and diesel fumes.

They eventually whittled it down to a 15,000-pound rock containing the dinosaur, ready to be hoisted out of the pit. But with cameras rolling, disaster struck: As it was lifted, the rock shattered, cleaving the dinosaur into several chunks. The fossil’s partially mineralized, cakelike interior simply couldn’t support its own weight.

Tanke spent the night devising a plan to save the fossil. The next morning Suncor personnel wrapped the fragments in plaster of Paris, while Tanke and Henderson scrounged for anything to stabilize the fossil on the long drive to the museum. In lieu of timbers, the crew used plaster-soaked burlap rolled up like logs.

The MacGyver-like plan worked. Some 420 miles later the team reached the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s prep lab, where the blocks were entrusted to fossil preparator Mark Mitchell. His work on the nodosaur has required a sculptor’s touch: For more than 7,000 hours over the past five years, Mitchell has slowly exposed the fossil’s skin and bone. The painstaking process is like freeing compressed talcum powder from concrete. “You almost have to fight for every millimeter,” he says.

Mitchells fight is nearly over, but it will take years, if not decades, to fully understand the fossil he uncovers. Its skeleton, for example, remains mostly obscured in skin and armor. In some ways it’s almost too well preserved; reaching the dinosaur’s bones would require destroying its outer layers. CT scans funded by the National Geographic Society have revealed little, as the rock remains stubbornly opaque.

In May the Royal Tyrrell Museum unveils the nodosaur as the centerpiece of a new exhibit of fossils recovered from Alberta’s industrial sites. Now the public is marveling at what has wowed scientists for the past six years: an ambassador from Canada’s distant past, found in a moonscape by a man with an excavator.

Archaeologists Have Dates Wrong for North American Indigenous History

Archaeologists Have a Lot of Dates Wrong for North American Indigenous History — But Are Using New Techniques to Get It Right

It was in 1492 that Columbus reached the Americas. Many Europeans had travelled before, but the century from then until 1609 marks the creation of the modern globalized world.

It gave Europe extraordinary wealth and genocide and disease to indigenous peoples across the Americas. 

The dates and the estimates of the settlement in Europe are known from texts and sometimes illustrations, to use the failed colony on what was then Virginia’s Roanoke Island as an example.

However, one thing is missing. What of indigenous history in this traumatic era? Until now, the standard timeline has derived, inevitably, from the European conquerors, even when scholars try to present an indigenous perspective.

This all happened just 400 to 500 years ago – how wrong could the conventional chronology for indigenous settlements be? Quite wrong, it turns out, based on radiocarbon dating my collaborators and I have carried out at a number of Iroquoian sites in Ontario and New York state. We’re challenging existing – and rather colonialist – assumptions and mapping out the correct time frames for when indigenous people were active in these places.

Dating Iroquoia project member Samantha Sanft excavating at White Springs, New York.

Refining Dates Based on European Goods

Archaeologists estimate when a given indigenous settlement was active based on the absence or presence of certain types of European trade goods, such as metal and glass beads. It was always approximate, but became the conventional history.

Since the first known commercial fur trading missions were in the 1580s, archaeologists date initial regular appearances of scattered European goods to 1580-1600. They call these two decades Glass Bead Period 1. We know some trade occurred before that, though, since indigenous people Cartier met in the 1530s had previously encountered Europeans, and were ready to trade with him.

Archaeologists set Glass Bead Period 2 from 1600-1630. During this time, new types of glass beads and finished metal goods were introduced, and trade was more frequent. The logic of dating based on the absence or presence of these goods would make sense if all communities had equal access to, and desire to have, such items. But these key assumptions have not been proven.

16th-century European copper alloy beads from two sites in the Mohawk Valley.

That’s why the Dating Iroquoia Project exists. Made up of researchers here at Cornell University, the University of Georgia, and the New York State Museum, we’ve used radiocarbon dating and statistical modeling to date organic materials directly associated with Iroquoian sites in New York’s Mohawk Valley and Ontario in Canada.

First we looked at two sites in Ontario: Warminster and Ball. Both are long argued to have had direct connections with Europeans. For instance, Samuel de Champlain likely stayed at the Warminster site in 1615-1616. Archaeologists have found large numbers of trade goods at both sites.

Centuries-old maize sample, ready to be radiocarbon dated.

When my colleagues and I examined and radiocarbon dated plant remains (maize, bean, plum) and a wooden post, the calendar ages we came up with are entirely consistent with historical estimates and the glass bead chronology. The three dating methods agreed, placing Ball circa 1565-1590 and Warminster circa 1590-1620.

However, the picture was quite different at several other major Iroquois sites that lack such close European connections. Our radiocarbon tests came up with substantially different date ranges compared with previous estimates that were based on the presence or absence of various European goods.

For example, the Jean-Baptiste Lainé, or Mantle, site northeast of Toronto is currently the largest and most complex Iroquoian village excavated in Ontario. Excavated between 2003–2005, archaeologists dated the site to 1500–1530 because it lacks most trade goods and had just three European-source metal objects. But our radiocarbon dating now places it between about 1586 and 1623, most likely 1599-1614. That means previous dates were off the mark by as much as 50 to 100 years.

Other sites belonging to this same ancestral Wendat community are also more recent than previously assumed. For example, a site called Draper was conventionally dated to the second half of the 1400s, but radiocarbon dating places it at least 50 years later, between 1521 and 1557. Several other Ontario Iroquoian sites lacking large trade good assemblages vary by several decades to around 50 years or so from conventional dates based on our work.

Sturt Manning examining a sample in the Cornell Tree Ring Laboratory.

My colleagues and I have also investigated a number of sites in the Mohawk Valley, in New York state. During the 16th and early 17th centuries, the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers formed a key transport route from the Atlantic coast inland for Europeans and their trade goods. Again, we found that radiocarbon dating casts doubt on the conventional time frame attributed to a number of sites in the area.

Biases That Led to Misguided Timelines

Why were some of the previous chronology wrong?

The answer seems to be that scholars viewed the topic through a pervasive colonial lens. Researchers mistakenly assumed that trade goods were equally available, and desired, all over the region, and considered all indigenous groups as the same. On the contrary, it was Wendat custom, for example, that the lineage whose members first discovered a trade route claimed rights to it. Such “ownership” could be a source of power and status. Thus it would make sense to see uneven distributions of certain trade goods, as mediated by the controlling groups. Some people were “in,” with access, and others may have been “out.”

Ethnohistoric records indicate cases of indigenous groups rejecting contact with Europeans and their goods. For example, Jesuit missionaries described an entire village no longer using French kettles because the foreigners and their goods were blamed for disease.

There are other reasons European goods do or do not show up in the archaeological record. How near or far a place was from transport routes, and local politics, both within and between groups, could play a role. Whether Europeans made direct contact, or there were only indirect links, could affect availability. Objects used and kept in settlements could also vary from those intentionally buried in cemeteries. Above all, the majority of sites are only partly investigated at best, some are as yet unknown. And sadly the archaeological record is affected by the looting and destruction of sites. Only a direct dating approach removes the Eurocentric and historical lens, allowing an independent time frame for sites and past narratives.

Dating Iroquoia Project member Megan Conger excavating at White Springs, New York. Some locations have been under-explored, so far, by archaeologists.

Effects of Re-dating Indigenous History

Apart from changing the dates for textbooks and museum displays, the re-dating of a number of Iroquoian sites raises major questions about the social, political and economic history of indigenous communities. For example, conventionally, researchers place the start of a shift to larger and fortified communities, and evidence of increased conflict, in the mid-15th century.

However, our radiocarbon dates find that some of the key sites are from a century later, dating from the mid-16th to start of the 17th centuries. The timing raises questions of whether and how early contacts with Europeans did or did not play a role. This period was also during the peak of what’s called the Little Ice Age, perhaps indicating the changes in indigenous settlements have some association with climate challenge.

Our new radiocarbon dates indicate the correct time frame; they pose, but do not answer, many other remaining questions.

Note: This article was originally published under the title ‘ Archaeologists have a lot of dates wrong for North American indigenous history – but we’re using new techniques to get it right’ by Sturt Manning on The Conversation.

A Canadian archaeologist walking her dog finds a 9,000-year-old artifact on Thompson River

A Canadian archaeologist walking her dog finds a 9,000-year-old artifact on Thompson River

An archaeologist from Kamloops came through a piece of history dating from 9,000 to 6,000 years while she was out with her dog for a walk.

Heritage director Joanne Hammond, and assistant CEO of Skeetchestn Natural Resources Corp., spotted the spearhead this weekend as she walked along the Thompson River.

“Wherever it’s not developed & there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to find something,” Hammond says.

Joanne Hammond found a spearhead this past weekend as she was walking along the Thompson River on the Kamloops north shore thanks to the low water levels. It could be up to 9,000 years old.

She says the term ‘site’ can mean anything from a single artifact to an entire village.

Currently, Hammond is in a Process of registering it as an archeological site near the northern shore of Kamloops, which would grant it recognition and protection by the government. The Department of Forestry and Agriculture, Natural Resources Activities, Rural Development shall send photos, planning sites and a Report to the Ministry of Archaeology.

She considered a spearhead in the Kamloops region among the oldest. She says previous studies and radiocarbon dating have helped research teams to consider how long the points were used, and says even the shape hints to when and how it was used.

“That’s a really distinctive style. In general, the bigger and more robust points tend to be older,” Hammond says. “The most recent style of a point is specific to Kamloops is called the Kamloops points and it’s this very small triangle points with notches at the sides, they’re very distinctive.”

She says the older, rounder spearhead was used before atlatls were invented to throw spears further and faster. That means the hunter who used this spearhead would have most likely worked with others to take down large game such as elk, deer, and sheep.

“It would’ve been a pretty risky thing to do by yourself, so most of the hunting was done communally,” she says.

Hammond says nearly every year, she finds one or two artifacts while out and about. With 265 designated sites within 10 kilometers of the downtown area, Kamloops is second only to Victoria for the number of sites within close proximity to the city.

“(Kamloops) was always a pretty important hub. It was a pretty dense residential area in pre-contact times, and a trading hub and a travel corridor, so it does have a higher number of archeological sites than other areas,” Hammond says. “It’s a good example of when things like this come up to be reminded of the depth and intensity of the cultures that were here before them.”

“Just because we pave over it, doesn’t mean it disappears,” she says.

There are 165 sites within city limits, 200 sites on the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc land, and 175 sites located in what is known as the Secwepemc Cradle between Kamloops and Chase.

Registering the sites can help officials to monitor historical areas, but any artifacts found – even if not on a designated site – are still protected by law, according to Hammond. She recommends reporting a found artifact the Secwepemc Museum.

“There are a lot of circumstances where people are concerned that someone else is going to nick it if they do leave it there, and that is legitimate… we recommend that people leave it. You can hide it under something, pretty much a few leaves are going to do the trick.”

Hammond says removing an artifact such as a spearhead can disrupt archeological research in the area.

“The majority of the value of the artifact is in its context, its location and the things it’s associated with,” Hammond says. “As soon as you remove it, that context is lost and so most of the information we can learn from a site is lost, and all you have left is a collectible… So we really, strongly encourage people to leave it there.”

Tons of Giant Nephrite Jade Discovered in Canada

Tons of Giant Nephrite Jade Discovered in Canada

In many colors jade is found in black, blue, orange, brown, cream, gold, white and lavender. The different types of jade include jadeite and nephrite.

Nephrite is tougher and harder to break than jadeite material. The Polar Pride boulder was called the find of the millennium by trade experts and was discovered in Canada. The 18-ton boulder was split in half to be used for carving.

Jade was first identified in Canada by the Chinese settlers in 1886 in British Columbia, Canada. At this time jade was considered to be worthless as they were searching for gold.

Jade was not a commercialized stone in Canada until the 1970s. Commercial mining of Canadian jade began in 1972, by two Californians who started the mining business Loex James Ltd.

There are over fifty known nephrite occurrences found in British Columbia. These occurrences are located in Southern British Columbia, the Cassiar, Cry and Dease Lake, and Mount Ogden areas.

These nephrite occurrences consist of individual blocks, talus blocks, boulder fields, and in situ occurrences. Most of the nephrite in situ occurrences are lens-shaped or cigar-shaped.

Nephrite in British Columbia.

Until the 1960s, almost all of the nephrite that was produced in British Columbia came from secondary deposits. With the rapid expansion of the amateur lapidary activity after World War II, production in the jade fields of British Columbia’s picked up, and they became the most important suppliers.

Around the same time, markets opened up in the Orient and Germany. Mining activity for Nephrite gradually depleted the secondary deposits, but increasing the values of the stone led to further exploration.

These efforts uncovered primary deposits of jade adjacent to the Fraser River in southern British Columbia, the Mount Ogden area of central British Columbia and the Cassiar jade fields in the far north of the province. Today, British Columbia is the main supplier for the Chinese market of Nephrite.

Nephrite mining in the province of British Columbia is very challenging. Winters are typically long and extremely cold, and deposits of Nephrite are remote, so mining can only happen during the shorter summer season, which is only about 60 days a year.

Nephrite Mined In British Columbia Canada

Almost all of the secondary deposits of jade are exhausted, so current mining is almost always from primary deposits. Transporting the heavy equipment to the jade mining sites is backbreaking work.

Jade West uses its diamond-coated circular, wire saws and modern high-pressure hydraulic splitters to remove the nephrite boulders from the mountain and saw them into pieces of a manageable size.

Nephrite’s toughness makes it an extremely difficult stone to break out of the rock. While blasting the Nephrite had been used in the past, Jade West no longer uses explosives.

Nephrite deposits range in size from 12 inches to 12 feet wide. The wider deposits of jade are very challenging to the quarry.

Nephrite boulders on the surface can sometimes reach weights of about 200 tons and are rarely under 100 pounds, but Jade West tries to limit the overall weight of its jade Nephrite boulders to five tons, which is a good size for them to mine, handle, and then transport on trucks to the nearest town, which is about 100 miles away.

The average weight of Nephrite is two tons, a size that satisfies most of the carving factories in China.