Horned dinosaur skull discovered in northern Alberta

A University of Alberta researcher discovered this fossilized skull in northern Alberta in 2019. (Source: Corwin Sullivan)

A University of Alberta researcher working in Alberta’s Redwillow Valley near Grande Prairie had been getting a closer look at another bone when he found himself sitting on a rock containing a fossilized skull.

That was back in the summer of 2019. The 72 million-year-old fossil remained there until last week. During the last two years, experts realized the bone was the cheek of a horned dinosaur – or ceratopsian.

“When you first find a fossil in the field it’s often not clear at all what you’re dealing with. It takes a bit more looking to figure out what it is,” said Corwin Sullivan, an associate professor at the University of Alberta and curator of the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Wembley, Alta.

After cutting away some of the rock surrounding it, the skull piece was airlifted to the museum, where it’s awaiting transport to the University of Alberta. That’s where experts will determine which species of ceratopsian the bone belongs to – Sullivan says they suspect it’s a type of Pachyrhinosaurus, which have been found in Alberta’s Pipestone Creek bed. But he adds there’s always the possibility it’s a species that hasn’t yet been found in Alberta.

Either way, it will help paleontologists paint a picture of the province’s past.

“Every bit helps,” Sullivan said. “So this is going to be a significant find, even if it is just Pachyrhinosaurus, because we have it in a new place and it’s telling us something that the occurrence at the Pipestone Creek bed couldn’t.”

Once researchers have completed their examination of the bone and published their findings, it will be transported back to the museum and put on display.