29.11.08

the royal tyrrell museum

now that i'm back in canada, and specifically drumheller it only made sense that i would return to my former home AND workplace. the royal tyrrell museum.
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now of course i've talked a lot about this museum here on my blog, but as i didn't really start this blog till after i'd left the museum i haven't posted much about it (and when i did in those early blogging times i didn't cover it well). so i'm going to fix this lack of tyrrell info on my blog with this the definitive traumador guide to the museum!

so in the words of the museum's spokesman john acron (i've met him before!) "welcome to the royal tyrrell museum" though of course "this is not the museum it is merely the sign!"

now of course you want to know more about the museum as opposed to the sign so...

the museum to start off with, is located within midland provincal park, and thus technically makes it just "outside" of drumheller. it is halfway along the north dinosaur trail (the trail being two roads that run east/west one on each side of the red deer river valley on which most of the valley's tourist attractions are located). it is either a 5 minute car drive or an hour walk from downtown drumheller.

the royal tyrrell museum of palaeontology is the only major museum in all of canada dedicated to just the science of palaeontology. the museum's slogan "celebrating life" summarizes this topic perfectly, if you ask me.

the museum opened in 1985 as just the plain old tyrrell museum of palaeontology. however 10 years later in 1995 due to the museum's important work and increasing reputation the queen of england gave it her approval, and it gained the royal on the front of its name.

being run and operated by the government of alberta the tyrrell runs on a philosophy of preserving, protecting, and presenting the fossils of the province for albertans now and forever to enjoy. due to museum's specialization in palaeontology it is headquarters for a lot of the fossil management in the province. if you want to dig in alberta you'll need to apply to the museum for the permit (though if you don't have a PHD you most likely won't get it... trust me i've tried!).

to help it with its mission of preserving, protecting, and presenting the museum has a whole army of palaeontologists in its employ. just like my buddy dr. fran├žois therrien here.

each one has a different interest and speciality so that the museum can study and present as much of the science as possible without too much overlap. these palaeontologists function as curators, whose job is to direct and supervise the collection, research, and presentation of fossils in their field of study. its an important job (and one i some day hope to get!).

when i left the museum it had 6 curators, but in response to some really sad deaths and just ordinary staff changes the museum now has 7. a few of whom i've never met...

well in order to preserve, protect, and present anything the tyrrell of course must collect fossils. with its crew of very talented and dedicated technicians, like fossil hunter extraordinaire and all round nice guy darren tanke above, the museum is very good at collecting them.

the tyrrell actively excavates (that's the biz term for digging/collecting) fossils from dozens and dozens of sites all over alberta that yield everything from dinosaurs, to marine reptiles, ice age mammals, fossil pollen, placoderm fish, and various invertebrates. however they have collected many times outside the province as close as BC and as far away as china and even antarctica!

so how do you preserve and protect fossils. well the number one favour you can do the fossils, so they stick around, is to get them out of the damaging elements. pretty much everything nature does from raining, snowing, being sunny, or windy damages fossils. if they are left outside in the elements these remains of the deep past would erode into nothing more than dust. instead the museum brings them back to the museum (or sometimes one of a couple warehouses it has) and stores them in the unprepared collections.

as john acron funnily puts it "and why are they unprepared you might ask? i mean hey, these fossils have been around for millions of years you think if they were going to be prepared for something, they would be by now!". of course unprepared means that the fossils have only been worked on by people enough to safely get them out of the ground. they typical need more work to be fully seen and studied. the process by which we clean them off is called preparation.

like all good museums the tyrrell has a huge back log of unprepared specimens. the majority these were collected in the 80's, 90's, and 2000's, but a fun game to play in the unprepared collections, as they're all labelled, is finding the oldest jacket! . the oldest i could find was from 1937, and there many others of dates between this and 1985.

in order to get these fossils prepared the tyrrell has state of the art fossil preparation labs and facilities. here the techicans, like my friends david and dawna here, patiently and carefully work on cleaning off and repairing these fossils so they can be looked at and studied.

when it comes to the protection directive, this is the place to go. the prepared collections area. once a fossil is cleaned off (prepared) it comes here to be stored. this is more than just a big warehouse where things are dumped though (unprepared collections is more like that). this is more like a big library of fossils...

every specimen is given a number, and is stored in an appropriate section of the collection. all the fossils are catalogued in huge books that include information like where the specimen was found, who found it, who prepared it, and even which scientific literature it is mentioned in.

over 200 000 fossils are catalogued in the collection, of which over 93 000 are dinosaurs. this makes it the largest fossil collection in canada, and one of the larger collections throughout the world. nearly a hundred scientists visit the museum every year to look and and study the fossils in these collections (and it can be way more when the museum is hosting a big gathering of scientists like a conference or synposium!).

the tyrrell however is much more famous for the last of its three directives, and that is the presenting. the museum boasts world class fossil exhibits open to the public all year round. so world class that many other museums have visited it to get ideas for their own displays. i'll be taking you on a virtual tour of these shortly...

over 300 000 visitors check out the museum each year, and about 200 000 of these come during the summer season. i remember this crazy stretch of 3 months well!

rounding off the presentation side of things the museum has cutting edge education and interpretation programs and services. these range from knowledgeable staff (and some dinosaurs ;p ) on the museum floor to answer guests' immediate questions, to tours and hikes, school programs, and even a full on summer camp!

i used to work in this portion of the museum for the most part when i worked here. being everything from a dinosaur on the gallery floor to a expert guest at the badlands science camp i got around presenting (even with my brain if i got it wrong a lot!).

so that in a nutshell is the museums overall structure and battleplan. now to take you on a quick virtual tour of the museum. some of this stuff is new, and i hadn't seen it till this recent trip. so it just goes to show much like the prehistoric life it it presents within the museum is evolving itself.

Cretaceous Alberta

the entrance to the museum galleries is brand new. back in my day it was a giant globe floating in space. now it is a much more impressive recreation of alberta 70 million years ago. here you will encounter a pack of albertosaurs wandering through a dried up riverbed.

i'd run into the albertosaurs before when i briefly tried to get my job back in the xmas of 06.

whats really cool about this new display, beyond the fact its cool pretending to walk back in time, is that it is self interpreting. meaning there's no signs to tell you what you're looking at or more to the point where and what to look at in the first place. it is just as if you travelled back in time and can explore it on your own.

so for example you have to both notice the scars on the snout of this running albertosaur, and figure out possible causes for them on your own.

right down to minor but amazing details like all these replica fish, turtles, and invertabrates in a small pond.

there's all sorts of other things to spot and think about, but i'll leave that till a later post or for you to see yourself when you visit the museum.

Great Minds Fresh Finds

next up is this display, which not only showcases the curators of the museum, but also their current work. its a really nice setup, and if you're not familiar with the scientists of the museum its a great way to get to know what their up to.

its also the area where any tyrrell fossils recently in the news are put on display. such as this eggnant adocus turtle (that's my new word for pregnant with eggs... i hope it catches on!) which you may have heard about a couple months ago or read about on the blogs.

needless to say the whole great minds fresh finds area has changed a lot since the last time i was here. what with new research in the past 2 years, and some new curators starting on since than.

Lords of the Land

another sort of new, but yet not really, area is the lords of the land. it used to be called the theropod hall and showcased meat eating dinosaurs from around the world. now they've replaced all the foreign theropods with alberta ones, and redecorated and re lite the exhibit so it looks like an art gallery.


it looks really nice and artsy, but at the same time is an extreme case of what i call "museum lighting". it looks real nice when you're there, but you can't really take pictures. worse the lighting directs and dictates what and how you see the specimen. it takes the exploration out of the museum visit and it tells you what to see, and i think that kinda takes the fun out of it.

the show case piece of this hall is still the mounted tyrannosaurus rex in the centre of the display. it is one of two tyrannosaurs the tyrrell boasts... of course the other t-rex is a little more signficant to me. that being my mother the huxley tyrannosaur.

next you hit the "main" galleries of the tyrrell which are fossil halls setup as though you were travelling from the beginning of life towards the present. so the first place you'd end up on such a time journey would be...


The Burgess Shale

one of the tyrrell's coolest displays has to be its burgess shale recreation. here you travel through a magnified scene of the cambrian as though it were in a fish tank (the animals are 12 times their original size as otherwise you won't see most of them well). it even has a glass floor that allows you to look at the ocean floor your walking above.

the only problem with it is that it doesn't photograph well as you can see. so be sure to visit just for this exhibit. there isn't another burgess shale display this cool i've ever heard of!

there is also a nice interpretive section on the burgess shale, and the tyrrell's efforts in the 1990's to find other sites around field with the same critters.

it also has a huge selection and display of burgess critters. which was cool to have when i was first reading wonderful life. i could just run up stairs from where i was reading and look at the stuff. not that i want to rub it in. it just made the book that much cooler!

Devonian Reef
next we jump to the devonian and one of the reefs that ties into alberta's rich oil deposits. here you get an awesome fish tank style recreation of the time period. i think this is where my love of aquarium began, growing up and watching this reef. which tells you how cool it is. nothing in it is alive or moving, yet it could captivate me for hours, and i have a real short attention span most of the time people of the innerweb!
Onto the Land

the first display you hit coming down stairs is the highlights of life's conquest of the land. its a cool display that shows you the progress from the first tiny plants to make it onto land all the way to amphibans emerging into a fully developed terristial ecosystem.


Permian Hall

next we come to the biggest extinction in the earth's history. despite alberta not really having much fossil material from this time, using casts from elsewhere in the world the tyrrell shows off this time period well.


among my favourite is the wall of skulls of the bizarre and diverse reptiles and sort of reptiles that are from this era. if you think dinosaurs had the monopoly on weird, one look at this wall should hopefully fix your opinion. mind you in this pic dimetrodon isn't one of the weirdos. all around him are some though. my photos of them didn't turn out so well sadly :(


speaking of dimetrodon what permian display won't be complete without everyone's favourite not a dinosaur. emphasis on the display is made that this is not a dinosaur, but rather the apex predator of another time, and an ancestor to you mammals!


Cretaceous Garden

immediately after the permian display, is a tucked away entrance to the most often missed part of the tyrrell, the cretaceous garden. seriously now that you've been warned watch for it! the gallery staff get the question of where the garden is seriously hundreds of times a day.

this is a special living collection of plants whose decsendents were alive in alberta during the cretaceous.

it is a special place to me as for 2 years of my life this was my home! i lived here for most of my time in drumheller, and all of my time after getting my job at the tyrrell (immediately after being hired i was kinda kicked out of dan and craig's apartment and this is where the museum put me up).

Triassic Giant

my favourite of the new things added since my departure was the triassic giant. ever since the death of marine reptiles curator betsy nicholls in 2004, her greatest work has sat in the museum collections unseen by the public. finally in this tribute display, her magnificant shonisaurus sikanniensis the largest marine reptile known, is out for all to see!

i'll be blogging about this huge ichthyosaur later...

Dinosaur Hall

of course the main attraction of the museum for most is the dinosaur hall. one of the largest in the world with over 30 dinosaur skeletons on display in one hall, and most of which are mounted in life like positions.

my only complaint is that the hall is ALMOST presented in chronologic order. except there are NO triassic dinosaurs present, and that it goes from the late jurassic straight to the late cretaceous. i know this is mostly due to the museum in its beginning setting up a trade for some jurassic dinosaur casts in exchange for an albertosaur and some duckbills with an american museum. besides these jurassic dinosaurs all the major skeletons are those of albertan dinosaurs.

this is in some way a minor complaint from a real dinosaur stickler... can you blame me. i am one afterall!

no the dinosaur hall is pretty fantastic.

it has a representative of every major clade of dinosaur except prosauropod and hypsilophodontid (though the theropods are pretty coelurosaur centric... partial due to alberta's theropods all being coelurosaurs, and also the pack of the primordial feather pushing for this)

it definately is worth the visit for any of you dinosaur buffs out there on the innerweb!

Ceratopsians
one of the new displays that i'm not entirely keen on (just because it resulted in the firing of the girl of my dreams lillian the albertosaur) is the new ceratopsian exhibit. again i did say not entirely. for the most part i think it is rather cool. other than the drab colours they used. it makes them seem boring...

which dinner shouldn't be if you ask me. man i could go for a ceratopsian burger right about now.

here you'll find many of the new horned dinosaurs that have been in the news lately. such as eotriceratops pictured here. there are several other, but i'll blog about these in a bit.

also there is the new ubber cool yet to be formally described or named "dinosaur park pachyrhinosaur".

Bearpaw Sea

next we come to a childhood favourite of mine. the marine reptiles of the ancient interior seaway. here you get to see some of the amazing animals that lived along side the dinosaurs.

when i was a hatchling craig would bring me in here to lull me to sleep. so i have very fond memories of here.

KT Extinction

the last bit of the dinosaur hall covers the very upseting demise of my kind. in fact for me this section is just an emotional rollercoaster because not only is it the sad story of the end of the dinosaurs, but my mother is on display here. i haven't been able to talk to her in 2 years...

Mammal Hall

from here you hit the often skipped or quickly run through age of mammals. after all the amazing displays before it, visitors and staff often wear out and just breeze through here.

not that i blame them. i find mammals kinda boring myself. though to be fair if you take the time to explore these displays their actually pretty good.

Ice Age

the one exception to the skipped mammals is the ice age exhibit, with a mammoth under attack by saber toothed cats. people love this one, and it is one of the most photographed parts of the museum!

sadly after this you've caught up to the present era, and thus the end of the museum and you end up in the gift shop.

so i hope you've enjoyed your virtual tour of the royal tyrrell museum. again i couldn't possible do it any justice here on the web wide world, and you really should visit it anyway.

do stay tuned to my blog for the next little while as i'll be doing more posts as i visit around here.

to see some of my older posts on the museum click here.

28.11.08

drumheller: dinosaur capital of canada

now that i'm home, and i've never really given you people of the innerweb what its like. here is a brief overview of my hometown of drumheller!!!

keeping in mind overview. while i'm visiting town as part of my 5th hatching day present i'm sure i'll post on many of the specifics (and link them to here later) in more detail. this is to just to give you a rough feel of the place, and the basic facts of a place i've mentioned a lot in the past.

so with that in mind welcome to virtual drumheller! obviously not quite as 3D or walk throughable as the real one, but i'm a dinosaur of limited means...

(Production Note: Picture of Samuel Drumheller from here)

drumheller got its start in around the 1900's. though it had long been known that this area of canada was rich in coal (due to the exploits of joesph burr tyrrell) not much development or settlement had occurred to exploit it.
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that all changed when samuel drumheller came through the area, while he was trying to help his cousin find a ranch to buy. at this time the whole area was nothing more than farms/ranches on homesteads.
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the story goes that on a particularly bad winter night the two drumheller boys stumbled into the homestead of one thomas greentree. letting themselves into the empty house (greentree had gotten trapped by the weather at a neighboring ranch) they made themselves comfortable until the coal for the fire ran out. following the tracks left by greentree, samuel noted the very large coal deposit in the hill that he collected from. after spending the night the two men left some money as compensation to their absent host and trekked back to calgary.
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once back in calgary samuel learned of a last minute decsion by the CP trainline that would bring the new line of the railway extraordinarily close to the greentree homestead. a business venture struck the young drumheller. if he bought the homestead he could develop it and the area into the primary supplier of coal for the railway. legend has it he was so eager to make the purchase he hired a taxi and had it drive him from calgary across the frozen red deer river to greentree's farm. the taxi ride is only a legend mind you... one way or the other he made a deal with greentree.
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with the purchase of this land, drumheller established a site for a town to accommodate the coal miners he was hoping would come to work the area. drumheller and greentree came into conflict when greetree figured out why drumheller had been willing to pay so generously for his land. at one point the town was almost called greentree, but the more savvy drumheller won out in the end (though the only mall in town now bears greentree's name).
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with the completion of the rail line samuel drumheller's town quickly boomed into a city with a population of over 30 000. at the valley's height 27 coal mines were in operation. as of the great depression however the city slowly began to diminish, and the switch from coal to oil in the second world war virtually ended the coal industry (with the exception of the atlas coal mine which operated until the late 70's).
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around each of the various coal mines sub communities formed, and they often ended up being named after their mine. many of these still exist today as remnants in various forms. the villas and villages of wayne, nacmine (north american coal mine), and rosedale. many neighborhoods in drumheller are named after their mines as well such as midland, newcastle, and monarch.
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with the death of the coal industry, drumheller shruck and simply became another prairie farming town. however for such a town it is actually quite big. not a city big mind you, but its got around 8,000 people which for around the great plains of canada is fairly large.

the recent fossil fuel boom of alberta has caused drumheller to start booming itself again in the last few years. all the mesezioc rocks which make it famous for dinosaurs also hold a lot of oil and natural gas. which of course people come and take out of the ground. so it is once again a town on the rise.
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of course it is these mesizoic rocks that bring me into the story. in more than one way if you follow me (due to my egg fossilizing here and all, and also my growing up here... well you get the idea!). being laid down in the late cretaceous they are part of a series of rocks that contain one of the best fossil records of dinosaurs anywhere in the world!
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so rich were these dinosaur remains, that in the 1910's the great canadian dinosaur rush began. fossil hunters were sent on behalf of museums and institutions in new york, ottawa, and even europe here to collect dinosaurs. as a result many of the most famous cretaceous dinosaur species and skeletons on display throughout the world come from the red deer river valley.
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now keep in mind drumheller is located in just one portion of the red deer river valley's dinosaur bearing rocks. though the town does have many fossils around it, they are not as abundant or as spectacular as those found further south down the river in dinosaur provincal park (DPP from here on in, as its pretty big to type).
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i'll be very likely to palaeo FACT about the red deer river valley's geology and fossils soon. so either check this in a couple of weeks for a link or just follow the blog regularly.
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however due to both DPP's more remote location, and having lots of of people visiting it would make it hard to protect the area, drumheller was selected instead to be developed into a dinosaur tourist site. hundreds of thousands of people visit the town each year to catch a glimpse of the prehistoric past now.
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the town doesn't disappoint these visitors either. as it has put a lot into making the town the dinosaur capital of the world...

scattered throughout town, since 2000 anyways, are dozens of "cementosaurs". now these are NOT a type of dinosaur you've never heard of. it is simply a name for the dinosaur statues around town. they vary from really realistic to outright awful. most are in between, like this rather old skool tyrannosaurus you run into going downtown on riverside drive.
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many of these (including this t-rex) are from a locally famous theme park, called the prehistoric park (sadly not nigel marvin's), that was built in the 1960's. with the death of the owner/creator of the statues in the 80's they just sat in a isolated corner of town for a decade. that is until the town had the clever idea of spreading them out around town for all to see. which is where they are today. giving drumheller a fun flavour.

also many buildings have murals and paintings of various prehistoric scenes on them...

in fact pretty much everywhere including plain old grocery stores, have something dinosaur related attached to them.

the pinnacle of the dinosaur theme though has to be the "world's largest dinosaur" located on the river front. right beside the only bridge crossing the red deer river in the valley, it is both hard to miss due to its size and its location.

i'll be blogging about all the cementosaurs, murals, and the world's largest dinosaur soon.

of course the cementosaurs aren't the only dinosaurs in town, and these other ones were what led to my having to leave town in the first place! these vivus-dinosaurs (as professor paradigm calls them) are pretty common around here too. among the most common are the duck-bills (as they were the most common large dinosaur around here, millions of years ago) and the most common of the common are the edmontosaurs like these ones pictured here.

i'm sure i'll be covering several of these vivus-dinos as i bump into them on the trip...

the dinosaur attractions don't seem to stop popping up either it seems. since my departure from town 2 years ago, there is a new museum under construction. that's kinda weird.
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of course it like all the other pre-mentioned dinosaur attractions are only the warm-up for the real attraction in town...


my old home, the royal tyrrell museum.

the tyrrell museum has been the centrepiece and backbone of the dinosaur tourist phenomenon in drumheller for over 20 years.

stay tuned as my next post will be a close look at this great institution of palaeontology!

Next: The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology!

also don't forget about the special themed "my favourite museum" boneyard being hosted here next week!

please no matter who you are, do up a post about a museum special to you and send a link (as in the url address of that post) here to the tyrannosaur chronicles!

the deadline is dec. 2nd...