Final year undergraduate students from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences studying a new module called Species and their Relationships: Dinosaurs to DNA have uncovered a rare and important dinosaur skull while on a trip to Canada as part of the course.
The students were undertaking palaeontological fieldwork in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta this summer when they discovered the duck-billed hadrosaur skull which will now form part of the collection at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology (RTMP).
The module, which covers taxonomy (the naming of species) and systematics (the determination of evolutionary family trees), also gives students a unique opportunity to visit Canada and undertake practical fieldwork in a world heritage site that is home to a huge number of dinosaur, fish and plant fossils.
Students also visit RTMP, one the biggest dinosaur collections in the world where they can see not only the museum’s critically important specimens that are on public display but also those in the rest of the collection as well as the labs where the fossils are prepared.
Dr David Hone, Lecturer in Zoology at QMUL, explained the value of the trip to the students, “This course provides a unique opportunity for students to get directly involved with discovering dinosaurs in a globally important fossil locality and using new finds to show how species can be identified is a great way to teach the techniques used by biologists and palaeontologists."
All the students on the trip recovered fossils and nearly a dozen of them were considered important enough to be accessioned into the Tyrrell collections where they will be used in future teaching and research.
The key find was the rare hadrosaur skull. Which is important as it can provide a great deal of information about the dinosaur’s biology and the way it lived.
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Dr Caleb Brown from RTMP explained the significance of the find, “While isolated bones are very common in Dinosaur Provincial Park, the discovery of partial or complete skulls of any dinosaur is important. For the hadrosaurs the skull is especially important, as it is the part of the body that allows us to determine which species the animal belongs to.
“This specimen will almost certainly add to our understanding of variation and evolution of these animals, and the excavation of this specimen is a high priority for next summer’s fieldwork program.”
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