ALBERTA, CANADA -- While excavating for oil in Alberta in March 2011, miner Shawn Funk spotted something unusual. What he found that day turned out to be one of the most stunning and important fossils unearthed in decades.
“It was like a Game of Thrones dragon,” Funk told National Geographic, adding that it was "like a prop from a movie." It was an actual dinosaur, petrified from the snout to the hips.
The fossil Funk uncovered was of a new species of nodosaur (armored dinosaur) and was the best-preserved armored dinosaur ever found, scientists say. At 112 million years old, it was also the oldest dinosaur ever found in Alberta.
“It’s basically a dinosaur mummy — it really is exceptional,” museum researcher Don Brinkman told the New York Times. It took the museum more than 7,000 hours to prepare the specimen for research and display, according to a press release.
This dinosaur is so well preserved that it “might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago,” paleobiologist Jakob Vinther of the University of Bristol told National Geographic. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The magazine said the 18-foot-long, nearly 3,000-pound behemoth was likely the rhinoceros of its day, a grumpy herbivore that largely kept to itself.
A flooded river swept it into the sea, which covered that part of Canada at the time. The dinosaur’s undersea burial preserved its armor in exquisite detail, National Geographic said.
Nodosaurs were herbivores who walked on four legs and had armor plates and spines that grew in the skin of the neck, back, legs and tail, the Smithsonian Institution said.
Brinkman said the museum was careful not to restrict industrial activity when retrieving fossils so that excavators weren’t afraid to call when they found something, according to the Times. “These are specimens that would never be recovered otherwise,” he said.