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How to Preserve a Dinosaur

Remains of 112 million-year-old plant-eater show off impressive body armor and shoulder spikes.

By Sylvia Morrow|Wednesday, January 24, 2018
RELATED TAGS: DINOSAURS
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The fossils of Borealopelta markmitchelli helped provide a detailed guide to illustrating what the armored dinosaur looked like 112 million years ago.

Davide Bonadonna/National Geographic Creative

Royal Tyrrell Museum technician Mark Mitchell estimates he spent 7,000 hours chipping away at rock to uncover this 112 million-year-old dinosaur fossil, put on display at the Alberta museum in May. Described formally in August in Current Biology, the animal’s name, Borealopelta markmitchelli, is a nod to Mitchell’s dedication.

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Extremely rare among armored dinosaur fossils, the remains of Borealopelta markmitchelli were preserved with many of its spikes and bony plates in place. 

Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller, Canada

The plant-eating, tanklike nodosaur is unusually well preserved, including its hefty body armor, large shoulder spikes and even pieces of soft tissue. Only the animal’s front half was found; its partly exposed innards include the fossilized remnants of a last leafy meal. Don Henderson, the Royal Tyrrell’s curator of dinosaurs, believes that soon after death, the nodosaur’s bloated carcass floated down a river out to the ancient Albertan sea where “eventually the body went pop, and he sank like a stone.” Sediment must have then rapidly buried the body, preserving it with lifelike detail.

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