Recent Items – 2002
July 5, 2002 — Jamie Dirom, Daily News Staff
A dinosaur bone find near Tumbler Ridge has the potential to uncover a never before seen species of the giant lizards, says a researcher who has been working with area enthusiasts. Richard McCrea said the bones, found on an expedition to explore some of the many dinosaur tracks in the area, are embedded in a rock from a period that pre-dates many dinosaur bone discoveries and may be among the oldest in Western Canada. That may mean the bones come from an earlier breed of dinosaur than those more commonly found on digs. Not only does the find come from a rarely documented period, it’s also the biggest find of dinosaur bones in the province’s history. On the surface of the rock are 20 bones.
“That’s got to mean there’s a heck of a lot more bones in the rock,” McCrea said.
Previously, only two or three dinosaur bones had been recovered in B.C. The dinosaur search in Tumbler Ridge was set in motion in 2000, when two boys found what appeared to be fossilized tracks. Since then, interest in the dinosaurs’ presence in the area has jumped and locals have worked to locate other tracks.
Last year, McCrea, whose main area of expertise is fossilized footprints, was invited out for the first time to help verify and document the finds. He returned this year to see what the area’s enthusiasts had found since, and on an expedition with the group, they came across the rock. Wayne Sawchuk of Moberly Lake made the find.
“So we find this big slab of rock, and it’s got bone all over the place,” McCrea said.
Some of the bones they’ve found are rib bones from where the rib connects with the vertebrae – they’ve been 8-10 centimetres in diameter, suggesting a dinosaur that was not small. The vertebra they found was four centimeters in diameter. Bob Campbell from Prince George’s Exploration Place museum worked with McCrea and the group to help identify the bones.
Some of the bones were identified as coming from an ornithopod, which is a fairly broad characterization, Campbell said. An ornithopod would be similar to the commonly-known duck-billed dinosaurs, a herbivore that walked on two feet, although the specimen found in Tumbler Ridge predates such relatives. According to Campbell, the majority of dinosaur bones in Alberta date back 65 to 85 million years. The bones found in Tumbler Ridge date back 95 to 97 million.
“It definitely is older than some of the oldest stuff in Alberta,” he said.
Without excavating the site and examining the bones, it’s too early to tell anything further about the discovery, Campbell said. McCrea agrees, although he believes the age of the bones may well give the find an even greater significance.
“If there is something identifiable in the rock, it could be a new species, but we don’t know that (until we study it),” McCrea said.
Also found in the rock were wood fragments and other debris, which McCrea said suggests a high energy environment. He theorizes that the material may have accumulated in a stream where it fossilized over time. If that’s the case, there is the potential for a variety of different specimens to be found within the rock. After they were found, the bones were stabilized – protected with special chemicals and a coat of plaster.
McCrea, who has a special interest in the discovery because of a potential connection between the bones and tracks in the area, said a lot of the credit for the new discovery has to go to Tumbler Ridge doctor Charles Helm.
“One of the people that deserves a great deal of credit for this whole thing is Charles Helm. He’s been so enthusiastic from the start,” McCrea said. “When I’m not around there, he’s got a whole outdoor group – they go out and they find stuff to make it worth my while to go out there.”
McCrea added having people find sites and establish paths to them made his work a lot easier during his visits to Tumbler Ridge.
“That was big. A person’s research time is limited… if you’ve got a group like this at Tumbler Ridge who are so dedicated and so interested in it… then you can just concentrate on getting the sites documented.”
Also important is the respect the local group treats the sites with – they won’t remove material from a site until McCrea has a chance to come out and examine it, which ensures that any discoveries keep their value.
For Charles Helm, it’s been a very exciting time. “It’s just a very lucky find, but also a very significant one,” he said, talking about the discovery.
He described the experience of making the discovery: “It’s sort of a passionate moment. “You think of the privilege you receive being the first group to see this.”
He added that it was a special moment for some of the young people who were with the group.
“Having kids find this, as well… that’s very significant in the mind of a child.”
Helm said the find may help boost interest in efforts currently underway to establish a museum in Tumbler Ridge. He’s the vice-president of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation. The next step for the site is further exploration and the possible excavation next summer. McCrea said excavation will depend largely on whether funding becomes available.
McCrea is a PhD student from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and a member of that faculty’s ichnology research group.