Retired Alberta farmer discovers 80-million-year-old plesiosaur fossil

Geekquinox

A 72-year old retired farmer in Grand Prairie, Alberta has discovered the 80-million-year-old fossilized remains of a plesiosaur, a long-necked marine reptile with a barrel-shaped body and turtle-like flippers.

Norm Dyck and his grandson found the 5-kilogram fossil while walking along the Smoky River, just east of Grand Prairie, on the Canada Day weekend. He brought the find to Dr. Phil Bell, project paleontologist with the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative, at the nearby Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum.

[ Related: Discovery of woolly mammoth cells in Russia promises progress towards 'Jurassic Park'-like cloning ]

"As soon as I saw them, I realized 'oh, they're not dinosaur bones, they're something different,' " said Bell. "You can almost imagine something like a leatherback turtle, minus the shell, then add a long snake neck and snake head to it."

Plesiosaur fossils have been discovered in other parts of Northern Alberta, but even though the Grand Prairie area is rich in fossils, finds there have been confined to creatures that lived between 75 and 70 million years ago. It is known that the region was under water just a few million years before that, though, as a Mesozoic sea still filled much of the central part of North America. Dinosaur Initiative researchers haven't yet examined down in the strata far enough to find fossils that may have been left from that period in time, but Bell hopes to make it back to the location of Dyck's discovery before winter sets in.

[ Related: Dinosaur die-out may have been second of two close extinctions ]