Joseph Tyrrell




The Canadian geologist's astounding discovery of dinosaur bones in the Alberta Badlands in 1884.

By the time young Joseph Burr Tyrrell was sent to survey the Alberta badlands, he had already proven himself to the scientist-explorers of the Canadian Geological Survey, those unheralded heroes who mapped the vast territories of Canada in the last century.

In June 1884, 24-year-old Tyrrell and his assistant were paddling their canoe between the steep banks of the Red Deer River. In the layers of ancient rock, the geologist found seams of coal, outcroppings of one of the largest coal deposits in North America. He also discovered something even more amazing.

On the morning of June 9, Tyrrell set off on his usual routine of examining the river banks when a peculiar brown object sticking out from the valley wall caught his attention. He climbed 200 feet up the steep slope and then, with mounting excitement, began to clear away the dirt. With his hands and his geologist's hammer, he gradually uncovered the fossilized skeleton of a dinosaur.

Dinosaur remains had been unearthed in Western Canada before, but as Tyrrell explored the Valley, he knew that nothing like this had ever been found - a veritable dinosaur graveyard.

One day, after a month of surveying and collecting fossils, Tyrrell looked the ancient past directly in the face. Sixty-nine years later, at the age of ninety-five, he recounted the instant of his most dramatic discovery.

"I was climbing up a steep face about 400 feet high. I stuck my head around a point and there was this skull leering at me, sticking right out of the ground. It gave me a fright." Tyrrell had found the first skull of Albertosaurus, close cousin to the fearsome Tyrannosaurus.

Tyrrell went on to make many important mineral discoveries and to write major works on early Canadian explorers, but his discovery of the world's richest paleontological dig brought him lasting fame.

Today, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Drumheller, Alberta, pursues the work Joseph Burr Tyrrell began in June, 1884.

A Bang or a Thump? Diamonds from Outer Space!
Why did the dinosaurs, after millions of years, suddenly disappear? In the fossil record, the giant reptiles' remains appear in layer after layer of rock, then simply vanish.

The answer may lie in the very area where Joseph Tyrrell made his great dinosaur discovery, the Badlands of Alberta.

There are two main theories about dinosaur extinction: the "Banger," or Volcanic Theory, and the "Thumper," or Impact Theory. The Bangers believe that many huge volcanic eruptions spewed ash into the world's atmosphere, changing the climate and affecting the dinosaurs' habitat so severely that the dinosaurs perished. The Thumpers, on the other hand, believe that the earth's atmosphere was changed when a huge meteor smashed into the planet, sending up a global dust cloud that made life impossible for the reptiles.

Paleontologists are excited about some tiny clues from the Knudsen Farm in the Red Deer River Valley that may solve the dispute. They are carefully studying minute diamonds found in the Cretaceous Testiary Boundary, a thin rock layer that separates geological strata that are full of dinosaur fossils from those that contain no dinosaur remains at all.

Some scientists think that the micro-diamonds are fragments of the meteor that the Thumpers claim hit the earth. In their theory, the diamonds floated as particles in the enormous cloud of dust and gas that ultimately killed the dinosaurs.

If their investigation proves the Thumper theory to be correct, the Alberta Badlands will have revealed yet one more answer to the world's prehistoric past.

  • Tyrrell – Thomas Butler
  • Additional Cast – Harley Crowchild
  • Additional Cast – John Evans
  • Additional Cast – Don Francks
  • Additional Cast – Loon-Hawk