Monday, 11 May 2020

NORTHERN BC FOSSIL SITES

Heidi Henderson with Daniel & Charles Helm, Tumbler Ridge
In 2000, Mark Turner and Daniel Helm were tubing down the rapids of Flatbed Creek just below Tumbler Ridge.

As they walked up the shoreline excitement began to build as they quickly recognized a series of regular depressions as dinosaur footprints.

Their discovery spurred an infusion of tourism and research in the area and the birth of the Peace Region Palaeontology Society and Dinosaur Centre.

The Hudson's Hope Museum has an extensive collection of terrestrial and marine fossils from the area. They feature ichthyosaurs, a few marine reptiles, and some hadrosaur tracks. The tracks the boys found were identified the following year by Rich McCrae as those of a large quadrupedal dinosaur, Tetrapodosaurus borealis, an ichnotaxon liked to ankylosaurs.

Closer study and excavation of the area yielded a 25 cm dinosaur bone thus doubling the number of dinosaur bones known from British Columbia at the time. The dinosaur finds near Tumbler Ridge are significant. Several thousand bone fragments have been collected, recorded, and now reside within the PRPRC collections, making for one of the most complete assemblages for dinosaur material from British Columbia. Some of these precious fossil sites were buried underwater by the Site C Dam, depending on your view. The Dam destroyed one of the world's precious wildlife corridors and submerge valuable carbon sinks and agricultural land therein threatening fossil sites and food security in the North.

We have many marine reptiles and can even brag the largest specimen of Shonisaurus. Dr. Betsy (Liz) Nicholls, Rolex Laureate Vertebrate Palaeontologist from the Royal Tyrrell Museum, excavated and published on an ichthyosaur from the Upper Triassic Pardonet Formation, Shonisaurus sikanniensis. This big fellow is estimated to have grown to 21 metres (69 FT) in length, making him the largest marine reptile on record. Liz excavated the type specimen of Shonisaurus sikanniensis over three field sessions in one of the most ambitious fossil excavations ever ventured. Her efforts from 1999 through 2001, both in the field and lobbying back at home, paid off. Betsy published on this new species in 2004, the culmination of her life’s work and her last paper as we lost her to cancer in autumn of that year.

The true reveal for the paleontological significance is still to come. There are Triassic marine outcrops in northern British Columbia that extend from Wapiti Lake to the Yukon border. I'm excited about the future of paleontology in the region as more of these fruitful outcrops are discovered, collected and studied.