Corythosaurus Fossil Gets its Head Back

Scientists from the University of Alberta have been able to reunite the fossilised body of a Corythosaurus to its head, nearly one hundred years after the skull fossil was removed from the dig site.

Researchers have matched the headless skeleton to a Corythosaurus skull (C. excavatus) from the university’s Palaeontology Museum that had been collected in 1920 by the eminent George Sternberg during field work in what is now called the Dinosaur Provincial Park (southern Alberta).

Graduate Katherine Bramble, a co-author of the scientific paper that appears in the latest issue of “Cretaceous Research” commented:

“Based on our results, we believed there was potential that the skull and this specimen belonged together.”

The Corythosaurus (C. excavatus) Skull Collected by George Sternberg in 1920

Corythosaurus fossil skull.

The Corythosaurus skull collected by George Sternberg in 1920.

Picture Credit: The University of Alberta

Trophy Hunting When It Came to Dinosaur Fossils

The Corythosaurus skull shown in lateral view (above) was collected in 1920 and designated the holotype fossil for a new hadrosaurid (Corythosaurus excavatus) by C. W. Gilmore in 1923.  The skull, (UALVP 13) became part of the University’s vertebrate fossil collection.  In 1992, a previously uncovered, weathered, Corythosaurus skeleton was found.  A field team from the University of Alberta collected the specimen in 2012 and research undertaken by Darren Tanke (a technician at the Royal Tyrrell Museum), a co-author of the paper indicated that the body remains could be associated with the already known skull material.

In the 19th and early 20th Century, palaeontologists in North America were almost faced with an embarrassment of riches when it came to dinosaur fossils.  The extensive fossil deposits in Utah, Montana and southern Alberta led to many field teams simply “cherry picking” and only collecting the most spectacular of fossils, items such as claws, skulls, dermal armour, horns and teeth.  It is relatively common for a field team working in the Dinosaur Provincial Park to come across specimens missing skull material.

A Close-Up View of a Corythosaurus Dinosaur Model

CollectA Corythosaurus dinosaur model.

A close-up of the head of Corythosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Lower Jaw (Dentary) Found

In addition, an isolated Hadrosaur dentary (lower jaw bone), found in 1992, close to the articulated, postcranial skeleton may be one of the missing jaw fossils from the holotype skull.  The idea that this postcranial material be the skeleton of the holotype of Corythosaurus excavatus was tested using anatomical information and statistical analyses.  Statistical comparisons suggest that it is possible that the skull and dentary belong to the same individual.  Furthermore, the researchers postulate that the postcranial material could belong to the UALVP 13 skull.

Katherine Bramble explained:

“Using anatomical measurements of the skull and the skeleton, we conducted a statistical analysis.  Based on these results, we believed there was potential that the skull and this specimen belonged together.”

Matching Disparate Fossils to Individual Dinosaurs

This discovery highlights a growing field of study in palaeontology, wherein, scientists try to develop new ways of determining whether various parts of a skeleton, often located in different museum collections, belong to the same individual.  For this paper, the team used anatomical measurements, but there are several other ways of matching up fossil bones, such as conducting a chemical analysis on the surrounding matrix to identify the rocks from which the fossils were found.

The scientific paper, “Reuniting the ‘head hunted’ Corythosaurus excavatus (Dinosauria: Hadrosauridae) holotype skull with its dentary and postcranium,” published in the journal of “Cretaceous Research.”

Share This!Pin on Pinterest6Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Facebook20Share on Google+0