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News of a possible new ceratopsian!

Below article from The Ottawa Citizen reprinted for fair use purposes only -- copyright acknowledged.

This Megalania page has been visited times since April 20, 1998.

The Ottawa Citizen
Copyright 1998 Southam Inc.

April 19, 1998, Sunday, FINAL EDITION

SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A1 / Front

New dinosaur discovered on shelf of Ottawa museum: Scientists excited it's not 'just another Chasmosaurus'


In a brightly lit laboratory in Aylmer, history is being made.

Actually, it's being reconstructed, painstakingly, one fossilized bone fragment at a time, by a team of researchers at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Almost by chance, they stumbled upon a horned dinosaur previously unknown to science.

The discovery came in 1992, 34 years after the bones had originally been unearthed.

After being dug up in Alberta in 1958, they were transported to Ottawa, only to languish untouched on a shelf in the museum's "dinosaur graveyard."

The one-horned beast hasn't been given a name, because a full scientific description has not been written. But what scientists do know is that this cow-sized, rhinoceros-like creature roamed the Alberta badlands 75 million years ago, about 10 million years before dinosaurs became extinct.

This new specimen was a herbivore, which belongs to the family Ceratopsidae and the subfamily Chasmosaurinae.

Dinosaurs of this type are characterized by their long, bony frills at the back of the skull. Unlike its relatives, this new fellow sports an unusual frill that curls back over itself like a potato chip.

"It's quite exciting," says Dr. Robert Holmes, a research associate at the museum who is part of the trio now reconstructing the skeleton.

The scientific community has been clamouring to help describe the specimen, especially because no new kinds of dinosaurs from this subfamily have been discovered since Arrhinoceratops was unearthed in Alberta in 1925.

The dinosaur fossils were collected during an expedition to Alberta during the summer of 1958, led by Wann Langston Jr., a dinosaur paleontologist with what wa s then called the National Museum of Canada. In terms of North American dinosaur discoveries, the region is the heart of the continent.

Early in his mission, Mr. Langston tripped over the skeleton near Irvine, Alta., about 32 kilometres east of Medicine Hat.

Its large beak, part of its face and a small portion of its ribcage lay above ground. A battering by the elements over the years had bleached the remains and left scores on the exposed portions of the skeleton.

"To him, it was of interest," says Kieran Shepherd, the museum's chief collection manager for earth sciences. "But what he was looking for was a real show piece. Something that had research value, but also something that could be put on public display."

This, he thought, was "just another Chasmosaurus." He collected it only because the entire skeleton was intact, which is extremely rare.

To the lay person, his point of view may sound shocking, but for paleontologists, horned-dinosaur finds are a dime a dozen. The family has one of the best fossil records of any group of dinosaurs, Peter Dodson explains in his 1996 book The Horned Dinosaurs.

After settling on this "Chasmosaurus" (pronounced kaz-moh-SORE-us) as a trophy, the dinosaur was placed in a field jacket made of burlap feed sacks and held together with layers of plaster of paris before being sent by rail to Ottawa.

Once in the nation's capital, the dinosaur was literally shelved. For 34 years, the dinosaur skeleton sat untouched and protected in its field jacket in what Mr. Shepherd refers to as the museum's dinosaur graveyard.

To this day, dozens of these lumpy, irregularly shaped objects remain labeled and stacked on steel shelving units that rise six metres high in the museum's temperature-controlled laboratory in Aylmer. The researchers figure it would take 45 to 65 person-years to clear the backlog.

It wasn't until 1992 that there would be renewed interest in this particular dinosaur specimen. That was when Canada's pre-eminent fossil hunter, Dale Russell, then dinosaur paleontologist at the museum, wanted to wade into the ongoing debate about the front legs of ceratopsians -- horned dinosaurs.

One camp argued that horned dinosaurs had straight front legs like those of an elephant. The other side contended that the legs bent outward at the knees not unlike the modern day turtle.

Dr. Russell consulted Dr. Langston, his predecessor at the museum, who remembered the complete ceratopsian skeleton he collected decades earlier.

The 2.1-tonne field jacket was heaved down from its resting place to prepare for excavation. Dr. Langston's single field notebook that described the find was consulted and the researchers opened the casing at what they thought was the bottom to expose the legs. Instead, they cut into the field jacket at the top, thereby exposing the unique frill.

The field jackets aren't marked "this end up," Mr. Shepherd points out.

It immediately became obvious to the trained eye that this was not a Chasmosaurus after all. The Chasmosaurus boasts a long frill that curves slightly at the outside edge.

"It was clear that the debate wasn't as important as the discovery," says senior technician Clayton Kennedy.

Indeed, the scientific community has now largely settled on the bent-kneed turtle stance.

What has become important for the scientists hindered by expensive research expeditions is the possibility that there could be more jewels waiting to be discovered.

"I'm sure there are still more little treasures that have been sitting in our collection for so many decades," Mr. Shepherd says enthusiastically.

Work to excavate this new dinosaur stalled periodically as other projects took precedence and funding priorities shifted.

The project came to a complete halt in 1995 when Dr. Russell quit during a time of budget cuts, layoffs and bitter disputes between unions and management at the museum. Management has since changed, but revisiting the project was again put on hold because of construction of the state-of-the-art 22,000-square-metre research facility in Aylmer.

The museum, which operates as a Crown corporation and is almost entirely dependent on federal funds, moved part of its collection to the new building in October 1996. The scientists weren't fully settled in their new laboratories for another six months. It wasn't until last September that Mr. Shepherd, Mr. Kennedy and Dr. Holmes revived the ceratopsian excavation project.

"We figured it has been dead for 75 million years," Mr. Kennedy says. "It's not going to hurt to wait a few more years so we can take our time to do it right."

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