The odds of finding a needle in a haystack are one in a million –the exact odds Suncor shovel operator Shawn Funk had when he found the world’s best-armoured dinosaur in Millennium Mine 10 years ago.  

March 21, 2011 was like any other day, or so Shawn thought. That was until he noticed an abnormal-looking pattern in the mine face. He immediately knew that what he had struck with his bucket wasn’t just an ordinary deposit, and without hesitation, Shawn and the team notified the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta. for further inspection. 

The team of experts from the museum was thrilled to hear about this find. Don Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, was flown to site to inspect the fossil, and it was immediately evident this was a special discovery.

“After a few minutes we realized it was a dinosaur,” says Don, “we really wanted to get it, especially since nothing of this magnitude had ever been found at a Suncor site.”  

Suncor staff were just as excited about the discovery at the site, and were willing to roll up their sleeves to get the dinosaur out safely. Doug Lacey, Director, Tailings Engineering, looked after the visitors from the Royal Tyrrell Museum for the duration of the uncovering of the nodosaur, and was on site for all 17 days of the process. 

“Doug formed a team of the best Suncor employees he knew with the lightest touch to remove the overburden carefully without damaging the fossil,” says Don. 

After six long years and 7,000 hours of preparation at the museum, the 112-million-year-old “fossilized mummy” was ready for its big reveal. 

rendering image of dinosaur
Rendering image of the dinosaur

The unveiling of the Suncor nodosaur - now officially called Borealopelta markmitchelli (named after Mark Mitchell, the man who spent thousands of hours chipping away at the specimen) - took place at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, in the Grounds for Discovery exhibit in 2017. 

“This was a special moment to be a part of, and the highlight of my career,” said Don. 

Typically, fossil finds consist of individual bones and fragments of the specimen. As a complete preserved dinosaur, Borealopelta was a rare discovery, and made headlines around the world.

The nodosaur’s mummified state has puzzled many, and was investigated by experts in a special edition of CBC’s The Nature of Things in 2019. Dinosaur Cold Case is available in Canada on CBC's streaming service, Gem.

Happy 10th anniversary to Borealopelta markmitchelli

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