Skin deep: Calgary hobbyist paleontologist finds fossil complete with skin

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Skin deep: Calgary volunteer paleontologist finds fossil complete with skin
WATCH: A Calgary hobbyist paleontologist has helped uncover a hadrosaur fossil complete with skin in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta. As Michael King reports, experts say these sorts of discoveries can help us better understand the animals that lived in the province millions of years ago – Sep 1, 2022

During the day, Calgary biologist Teri Kaskie is focused on making sure that projects around Calgary keep the environment front of mind.

But every once in a while, that focus turns to something a bit more prehistoric.

“Sciences, science and I’ve always just been a huge lover of (dinosaurs),” said Kaskie. “Whether that’s alive or looking at something from the past and how it used to be, it’s all incredible to me.”

Last summer, she was able to dig into the past by volunteering with the University of Reading as they searched Dinosaur Provincial Park for fossils.

The dig ended up being a huge success with the team finding a fossil likely preserved shortly after it died.

The hadrosaur fossil was that of a juvenile and has large portions of preserved skin.

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‘It’s really special because generally the soft tissues, the skin, the organs, tendons, they don’t preserve in the fossil record,” said Kaskie. “So this is something really unique.”

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Gavin Bradley with the University of Alberta says these discoveries help answer some key questions, including which dinosaurs had skin and which had feathers.

“The answer is yes for some and no for others. (These discoveries) definitely help us reconstruct certain dinosaur species with more accuracy,” said Bradley.

He adds that the preservation of soft tissue can also help determine more accurate dimensions of some dinosaurs, pushing back against what is known as “shrink-wrapping,” where the past models for dinosaurs did not fully depict the muscle and fat of prehistoric beasts.

“Are we putting too much muscle on these reconstructions, are we not putting enough? I think we’re getting more accurate with those sorts of things,” said Bradley. “People are doing 3D reconstruction and seeing what sort of forces different bones could take.”

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Once removed, the fossil will likely be displayed — skin and all — to help future generations understand in better detail the giants that once walked the Earth.

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“It’s maybe easy to lose sight of that when you’re just looking at bones and teeth that have been mounted in museums,” said Bradley. “So any time you can get these extra pieces you can run your hand over, it gives that extra dimension.”

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