The Best Preserved Dinosaur Will Give You Goosebumps 

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Written by Colby Maxwell

Updated: June 14, 2023

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It’s truly incredible to imagine seeing a creature from millions of years ago in detail, but you won’t have to imagine it after seeing this incredible fossil! Let’s discover one of the best-preserved dinosaur fossils ever found and learn a bit about what it meant for science and what makes a fossil “good” in the first place.

The World’s Best Preserved Armored Dinosaur

Collage of nine ankylosaurs

A variety of ankylosaurs, armored dinosaurs that lived during the Cretaceous about 87 to 82 million years ago. The Suncro specimen is in the middle of the bottom row.

One of the world’s best-preserved dinosaur fossils ever found is known as the Suncor specimen, a fossil of an armored dinosaur species known as B. markmitchelli that was discovered in an oil sand field in Canada.

Imagine finding a dinosaur fossil so well preserved that you can see its skin, scales, and armor plates in stunning detail. That’s what happened in 2011, when a miner in Alberta, Canada, stumbled upon the remains of a nodosaur, a type of plant-eating, armored dinosaur that lived about 110 million years ago. The fossil, nicknamed the Suncor nodosaur, is the most complete and best-preserved nodosaur ever found. It belongs to a new species named Borealopelta markmitchelli, meaning “northern shield” in honor of its discovery location and the scientist who prepared it for study.

Borealopelta (the larger genus group) was a large and heavy dinosaur, measuring 5.5 meters (18 feet) long and weighing an impressive 1.3 tons. It had rows of bony plates and spikes covering its body and a pair of long horns on its shoulders. It also had a reddish-brown coloration that helped it camouflage from predators. The Suncor nodosaur was a rare and remarkable find that reveals new insights into armored dinosaurs’ anatomy, behavior, and ecology. Even more, it gives humans an astounding view of the physical appearance of dinosaurs in a way we’ve never really seen before.

Where Was the Suncor Specimen Found?

Ankylosaurus in Forest

The fossil was discovered in an oil-rich sand field in Canada by an excavator operator.

The Suncor specimen discovery happened by accident in 2011 by Shawn Funk, a machine operator digging at the Millennium Mine, an oil sands mine owned and operated by Suncor Energy.

The mine is located north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, in an area that was once covered by an ancient seaway. The fossil was found in the Wabiskaw Member sediments of the Clearwater Formation, which were being removed to allow mining of the underlying oil-rich sands of the McMurray Formation. As the worker was excavating the area, the machine hit the fossil and broke it into several pieces. When the worker realized that there were strange dinosaur parts in the sand, they reported to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, which organized a recovery.

The museum staff and Suncor employees worked together to recover all the fossil pieces and transport them to the museum for study and preparation. The fossil became the property of the Alberta government and is still displayed to this day!

What Makes a Good Dinosaur Fossil?

Portrait of Beautiful Paleontologist Cleaning Tyrannosaurus Dinosaur Skeleton with Brushes. Archeologists Discover Fossil Remains of New Predator Species. Archeological Excavation Digging Site

Complete, detailed, and undisturbed fossils make for some of the best resources for scientists.

Dinosaur fossils are rare windows into the past, but not all fossils are equally informative. Some fossils are more complete, more detailed, or more well-preserved than others, making them more valuable for scientific study and even for museum display. There are a few things that can make some fossils better than others:

Completeness

The more preserved bones or parts of a dinosaur, the better. A complete or nearly complete skeleton can reveal a dinosaur’s size, shape, posture, and anatomy, as well as clues about its behavior and ecology. A partial skeleton or a single bone can still be useful but may not tell the whole story.

Detail

The more fine-grained or high-resolution a fossil is, the better. A good fossil can show the texture, structure, and color of a dinosaur’s skin, scales, feathers, or armor plates and traces of blood vessels, nerves, muscles, and organs. A detailed fossil can also reveal a dinosaur’s injuries, diseases, or even what the dinosaur was doing when it died.

Preservation

The more intact or undisturbed a fossil is, the better. A well-preserved fossil can retain its original shape and position without crushing, distortion, erosion, or scavenging. Situations such as these are thanks to the fossil’s preservation through tar, sediment, or mud. A well-preserved fossil can also contain soft tissues or organic molecules usually lost during fossilization.

Learning from the Suncor Specimen

The Suncor specimen is an example of a good dinosaur fossil because it meets all the above criteria, allowing scientists to learn a lot from it. It is the most complete and best-preserved of its kind, with incredible detail, even down to the skin and scales, still visibly intact. It also has a reddish-brown coloration, indicating it probably had camouflage patterns while still alive.

From the Suncor specimen, scientists learn things like skin color, pattern, and texture about this species specifically but also about dinosaurs more broadly. Fossils like this one aren’t just a one-time learning event, either. Scientists will likely be studying it for years to come.


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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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