Dinosaurs of Grande Prairie’s “River of Death”

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Pipestone Dinosaur FindDinosaur Find On The Pipestone
Photo: Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative

Most travelers to Alberta, that are interested in dinosaurs head to the Royal Tyrell Museum at Drumheller, or Dinosaur Provincial Park. These are still the major center for dinosaurs, in Alberta, however, another treasure trove was discovered, close to 30 years ago much further north, at Grande Prairie.

Al Lakusta, a Montrose Junior High Grade 8 earth sciences teacher, discovered the bonebed. He was exploring the area on Labour Day weekend in 1973, the same place he’d taken his grade 8 classes many times before, although this time he walked a little further than usual· He thought perhaps he’d find a plant fossil, like he had in the past instead he found a dinosaur rib fragment, and then he came across a vertebrae and part of a femur.

He sent those fossils to the Provincial Museum in Edmonton, they were confirmed as dinosaur bones· Although the first bones he sent in to the museum in Edmonton were misidentified as a duckbilled dinosaur

The Royal Tyrell began excavation and discovered that it was one of the most significant bonebeds in North America. In 2008, the new species found at the Pipestone bonebed was named after Al Lakusta, its’ discoverer. There is still much more to discover, who knows what will be unearthed next.

The majority of the fossils, in the Pipestone Creek site, are Pachyrhinosaurus. The site is one of the most significant deposits of horned dinosaur fossils in the world because:

  • One of the highest concentrations of dinosaur bones and fossils in the world
  • Exceptional size and density, of the bonebed, at least size of a football field.
  • Contains over 100 bones per square meter, compared to only 20-60 bones per square meter at other significant sites.
  • Hundreds of individual animals present. Some skulls collected at the Pipestone Creek Bonebed are unique and may be a new species not found anywhere else in the world.
  • 3500 complete bones with 14 skulls taken from the site to date.
  • Skeletons of 4 distinct age groups ranging from juveniles to full grown dinosaurs.
  • Most northern single species dinosaur bone bed and Pachyrhinosaurus occurrence in Canada.
  • Theropod dinosaur (carnivorous) remains also found at the site which may indicate scavenging occurring.
  • Rare co-discovery of insects in amber and dinosaur bones from the same site.
  • Much more to excavate, promises years of research potential.

Pipestone Creek

Pipestone Creek DrowningPipestone Creek Now & The Drowning
Photo: Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative

Speculation about how this extensive bonebed occurred, is that over 73 million years ago this region was home to pachyrhinosaurus and other dinosaurs. (Pack-eerhine-owe-sore-uss). The animals traveled in large herds, hundreds of animals together, to help protect themselves from predators.

The climate was changing and weather was not as predictable as it once was. A large river, today known as Pipestone Creek, was flooded. The water was rushing and dangerous.

The entire herd of pachyrhinosaurus entered the river, and weren’t able to reach the other side safely. They were good swimmers usually, but swimming across a river alone is much easier than in a large herd. The animals were full of panic and struggled, crushing and drowning each other. Many of the bones discovered showed certain types of fractures that scientists believed are caused from being trampled upon.

The dinosaurs may have entered the river, even though it was flooded, because they were being chased by a predator, perhaps an albertosaurus (Dangerous predator of the time and cousin of the T Rex.) Their carcasses were carried downstream and collected in the bends of the river once the waters receded, creating the area today known as the Pipestone Creek bonebed. Their carcasses were also scavenged upon after they were exposed. Shed teeth and teeth marks from albertosaurus were found in the pachyrhinosaurus remains.

The water literally became a ‘river of death’ for the entire herd. The museum name of River of Death & Discovery pays tribute to the mass mortality of the animals, and the ongoing discovery of their remains.

With the importance of this find, Alberta now has it’s second dinosaur facility. The Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, was opened in September 2015 at Wembley, Alberta (111 km southeast of Dawson Creek, BC).

There have also been other “Peace Country” dinosaur finds, notably in the northeast area of British Columbia at Tumler Ridge. These finds are significant in that according to previous link to a Royal BC Museum article “…they are western Canada’s oldest dinosaur bones, being nearly 20 million years older than those found in Alberta’s great dinosaur bone deposits. The bones are also significant in that they come from a period of time (approximately 93 million years ago) when dinosaurs and other land animals were not well preserved on a global scale.” These finds and others from British Columbia, can be view in Tumbler Ridge Museum – Dinosaur Discovery Gallery
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