A moment in history: May 3, 1941

A moment in history: May 3, 1941

· The Pulse

On this day in 1941, an amateur paleontologist was unearthing what appeared to be a massive dinosaur fossil in Edmonton's river valley.

Modern Alberta is a landlocked province with a well-earned reputation for cold winters. But during the Cretaceous Period (which started 145 million years ago), it was pretty much the opposite — the area was covered by a warm, shallow inland sea surrounded by tropical forests. Both the land and sea were teeming with life, and while the water eventually receded and the climate changed, those creatures left their marks on the province, leaving behind some of the world's richest fossil deposits.

More than 50 fossil sites have been found within the city, with many yielding significant fossils. The Danek Bonebed is among one of the most fossil-rich. Tucked in somewhere in southwestern Edmonton (the exact location is not widely advertised over concerns about vandalism), it was discovered by sculptor and amateur fossil collector Danek Mozdzenski in 1989. Since then, nearly 900 separate fossils have been catalogued in the area.

The Danek deposit is especially rich in the remains of the Edmontosaurus. This massive hadrosaur was discovered near Drumheller in 1912. (It got the name Edmontosaurus because it was found in the Edmonton Group of rock formations). Despite being slightly bigger than a Tyrannosaurus rex, these giant dinosaurs were herbivores, likely feasting on trees. The Edmontosaurus was one of the last known living species of dinosaur; you can see what it looked like at the Royal Alberta Museum.

The Denek Bonebed might be one of Edmonton's most impressive fossil sites, but new treasures from the past keep surfacing in the city — and are usually found on accident. The 1941 find described in the newspaper article was discovered by C.C. Moller near a city golf course. The article doesn't describe the species but claims that it appeared to be about 100 feet long. If the bones did indeed belong to a dinosaur, they were much older than the six million years cited in the headline, as all dinosaurs (except the ones that evolved into birds) went extinct 66 million years ago.

Construction projects also occasionally unearth Alberta's former fauna. In 2010, workers spotted a tooth wedged in the dirt while digging out a new sewer line near the river valley. That tooth was from an Albertosaurus, an intimidating meat-eating tyrannosaur. More fossils from two different species of Edmontosaurus were eventually found in the same area. Fossil finds during construction are so common that many projects involve a paleontological survey to evaluate risks and preserve any remains found.

Anyone eager to follow the example of amateur bone collectors of old should be aware that Alberta has some of the strictest fossil protection laws in the world: violators can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines and up to a year in jail. Save for very few exceptions, fossils are considered the property of the province no matter where they are found. But you'll at least end up with credit and a cool story to tell, like a woman who found a mammoth shoulder blade fossil while walking her dogs near Devon last year. That specimen is now at the Royal Alberta Museum, which plans to send experts to the area this spring to look for more.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.