This individual was a pioneer in the marine waters that would eventually become the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway, which ran the length of North America during much of the Cretaceous and was home to one of the worlds most diverse communities of marine reptiles, Druckenmiller said. It represents the oldest known forerunner of this amazing period in North American prehistory.
The excellent condition of the fossil has also proven to be a gold mine for palaeontologists, who often rely on scattered and incomplete examples for classifying and reconstructing plesiosaur prehistory.
This specimen was preserved in sandstone and was not crushed as much as most specimens, which have typically been found in shale, Druckenmiller explained. Because of this, I was able to have its three-dimensional skull CT-scanned so we can see the details of the insides of its braincase. This has helped us understand this animal in more detail than almost any other plesiosaur ever found.
Russell said researchers have worked with Syncrude to study the ancient sea floor that is now being mined for oil sands, in order to better understand the prehistoric ecosystem and to help predict where future fossil finds might occur.
We are getting to look at a relatively large area of the ancient sea bed over many hectares, which is very unusual for a field site, he said. It allows us to create models and hopefully predict where other remains might turn up, which Syncrude and other oil sands operators can be aware of when working in a certain area.
Nichollsia borealis is currently on display in the Discoveries Gallery at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
|Contact: Grady Semmens|
University of Calgary