It all began in August 2013 as the swollen rivers of Alberta began to recede from the torrent of water that had poured through the province two months earlier.
An angler near Fort Macleod standing on the banks of the Old Man River spotted an exposed section of bone. He immediately called the Royal Tyrrell Museum, who sent paleontologist Ben Borkovic and a fellow paleontologist to the site.
“This was quite an important find,” says Borkovic. “It was a leptoceratops, from the end of the Cretaceous period: the end of dinosaurs on earth.”
The bones of the herbivorous and small dinosaur, which was thought to have roamed in western North America and some parts of Asia, were the first of several findings that Borkovic would uncover.
Speaking to 70 Calgarians at the Fish Creek Environmental Learning Centre on March 22, Borkovic points to a massive image on screen as he shares Tyrell’s mission of the last four years: rescuing fossils uncovered by the 2013 floods.
“Can you see it in the stone?” asks Borkovic, running his hand down a seemingly smooth photo of a rock face. His fingers reveal contours of a fossil, much to the delight of the crowd.
Erosion and damage already done to the Leptoceratops fossil meant a timely rescue was critical. Returning the next year would find the entire rock face swept away by the river. Other fossils were under such immediate threat that Borkovic was forced to carry them away on his back.
“We found fossilized footprints south of Lethbridge so close to the water [that] the rocks were wet.”
“There was no way we were leaving it there to be damaged, so we chiseled it out and took it with us.”
Over four years and during four separate field sessions, the project located 250 fossil sites around Alberta, yielding over 350 different specimens, several of which are important pieces yielding scientific data which Borkovic and fellow museum experts weren’t confident would ever be found.
Many fossils remain but the resources to save them are waning.
The province’s original funding of the mitigation project was for three years, with the Royal Tyrrell footing the bill this past summer. With so many potential finds, Borkovic acknowledges it may not be possible to save them all.
“All we can do is record them.”
He is hopeful, however, that the province would step in should another disaster happen.
“The best legacy this project can have is that in the future if we have another flood, they’ll support another project.”
- By Curtis Larson