Francois Therrien, Curator of Dinosaur Palaeoecology at the Nodwell property. Photo by NCC

Twelve-year old boy finds dinosaur fossil during summer trek in Alberta’s Badlands

The find indeed marks an exciting chapter in Nathan Hrushkin’s growing fascination with palaeontology

  • Oct. 21, 2020 9:00 a.m.

Submitted by the Nature Conservancy of Canada

A 12-year-old aspiring palaeontologist made quite the historic find during a trek through the Alberta Badlands this past summer.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is confirming the discovery of a dinosaur skeleton on its Nodwell property at Horseshoe Canyon, near Drumheller. Nathan Hrushkin and his father, Dion, discovered the partially exposed bones while hiking on the conservation site.

The area is located in an isolated pocket of Badlands amidst the Alberta prairies.

The geological record of the property, made visible through erosion, represents a time interval between 71 and 68 million years ago, noted a release.

In July, Nathan and Dion sent photos of their find to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which identified that the bones belonged to a young hadrosaur, commonly known as a duck-billed dinosaur.

The find indeed marks an exciting chapter in Nathan’s growing fascination with palaeontology.

“I’ve been wanting to be a palaeontologist for six or seven years,” explained Nathan.

“I am fascinated about how bones from creatures that lived tens of millions of years ago become these fossil rocks, which are just sitting on the ground waiting to be found,” he said. “My dad and I have been visiting this property for a couple of years, hoping to find a dinosaur fossil, and we’ve seen lots of little bone fragments. This year I was exploring higher up the canyon and found about four bones,” he said.

“We sent pictures to the Royal Tyrrell Museum and François, the palaeontologist who replied, was able to identify one of the bones as a humerus from the photos so we knew we’d found something this time.”

Because fossil reports from the Horseshoe Canyon area are rare, the Royal Tyrrell Museum sent a team to the conservation site. There was plenty more to discover.

Since Nathan’s find, paleontologists have also uncovered between 30 and 50 bones in the canyon’s wall.

All of the bones collected belong to a single specimen, a juvenile hadrosaur approximately three or four years old.

“The Nature Conservancy of Canada is excited to be a part of this significant find,” said Bryanne Aylward, senior director of conservation with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

“Connecting people with nature, in all its forms, is important to us, and we’re happy Nathan was able to test out his skills as a budding paleontologist on our conservation site.

“This find is a reminder that conservation is not just about protecting Canada’s landscapes for the present or the future, but also about preserving the past.”

While hadrosaurs are the most common fossils found in Alberta’s Badlands, this specimen is noteworthy because few juvenile skeletons have been recovered and also because of its location in the strata, or the rock formation.

The rock layer where this hadrosaur was found preserves few fossils, noted the release.

This hadrosaur is also highly significant because it will contribute to filling the knowledge gaps about dinosaurs from that time interval.

Numerous significant fossil discoveries are made each year by the public, and this young hadrosaur is a great example.

The Hrushkins are also a perfect example of what to do when someone discovers fossils: take photos of the bones, record their location using a GPS or Google Earth, report the find to the Royal Tyrrell Museum and, most importantly, leave the fossils undisturbed in the ground.

The latter is the most important step, as fossils are protected by law and much information is lost when they are removed from their location.

“This young hadrosaur is a very important discovery because it comes from a time interval for which we know very little about what kind of dinosaurs or animals lived in Alberta,” said François Therrien, curator of Dinosaur Palaeoecology at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

”Nathan and Dion’s find will help us fill this big gap in our knowledge of dinosaur evolution.”

The Nodwell property is named after Leila Nodwell, who passed away in April of 2000.

In tribute to Leila’s memory, the Nodwell family purchased the 320 acres that encompass the western half of the canyon, and subsequently sold the land to NCC.

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Pictured here is the first bone discovered at the Nodwell property. Photo by NCC

Pictured here is the first bone discovered at the Nodwell property. Photo by NCC

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