A construction worker who thought he chipped off a piece of rock with his backhoe was surprised to discover he broke off a piece of a dinosaur fossil instead.
The Canadian worker, part of a crew working on a natural gas pipeline in Alberta, was moving earth with a backhoe when it touched the nearly 100-foot long fossilized tail of a dinosaur, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation reports.
“What we have is a totally composed tail,” Brian Brake, executive director of the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, told the Edmonton Journal. “It’s beautiful.”
Experts believe the tail, which may belong to a 35-foot dinosaur still fossilized inside the rock, are part of a hadrosaur – plant-eaters known for their duck-billed heads and some of the last dinosaurs to roam the earth that lived more than 65 million years ago.
Once the backhoe operator spotted the dinosaur fossil, he stopped digging and paleontologists were brought to the site near Spirit River, Alberta. "As we walked around it, we saw this whole part of a tail of a dinosaur. To see something like that is pretty incredible," paleontologist Matthew Vavrek told CNN. "The last time I've seen something like that was in a museum. I've never found something like this before."
The remains, which were roughly buried 5 feet underground, are extremely fragile. The construction worker noticed that whenever the shovel touched the fossilized chunks, they fell to pieces. "You handle it carefully, or it's just going to shatter," Vavrek said.
Construction workers for the Tourmaline Oil Corp. have been enlisted to help with the recovery effort, which could take weeks or months. "We don't know for sure that the rest of the animal is there," Vavrek said. "Sometimes, all you get is what you see."
This isn’t the first unexpected Jurassic discovery in Canada. In August, the headless skeleton of a 73-million-year-old hadrosaur was unearthed in British Columbia. Considered the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever found in the province, it was airlifted to a nearby museum where paleontologists will study it and eventually place it on display.
"It used to be thought, mainly by people in B.C., that British Columbia doesn't have dinosaurs," paleontologist Richard McCrea told the National Post. "It does obviously have them, now, but they're not in easy-to-get places."