It has been compared to a dinosaur mummy, a lifelike sculpture and even a dragon from Game of Thrones.
Now, 110 million years after it died, the 18ft nodosaur – hailed as the best-preserved armoured dinosaur in the world – has been unveiled at a Canadian museum.
“Normally when we find dinosaur fossils we just have a skeleton, the bones. And we have to use our imaginations to reconstruct what they look like,” said Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.
“In this case, we’re very lucky in that it’s not just the bones; we have all of the armour, the osteoderm is preserved, we also have all the skin preserved and it is in three dimensions.”
The result is a glimpse of the dinosaur exactly as it might have been millions of years ago – a behemoth herbivore dotted with protective spikes, its skeleton encased in body armour and fossilised skin.
Researchers point to the sea to explain the state of the fossil. It’s believed that the nodosaur was swept up by a flooded river and carried out to the sea, where it eventually sank. Minerals slowly replaced its armour and skin, leaving the nodosaur preserved even as rock piled on top of it for millions of years.
The fossil was discovered in Alberta’s oilsands in 2011. A heavy-equipment operator digging in a mine north of Fort McMurray flagged his supervisor after he felt his machine clip something much harder than the surrounding rock, according to National Geographic.
What he had stumbled upon was the remains of a 3,000-pound nodosaur whose front half – from the snout to the hips – had been petrified.
Technicians painstakingly transported the fossil 420 miles south of where it was discovered to the museum to begin working with it.
Six years later – and after more than 7,000 hours of reconstruction work – the nodosaur has made its public debut as part of a new exhibit dedicated to fossils found through industrial activities.