November 27, 2018

The majority of dinosaur fossils boast nothing but bones and fragments of remains, leaving scientists to speculate how these animals likely looked millions upon millions of years ago.

That makes this discovery by construction worker Shawn Funk all the more impressive.

Funk, who was working in his native country of Canada back in 2011, unearthed a fossil of the borealopelta, a 110-million-year-old dinosaur categorized more broadly as an ankylosaur.

The truly impressive part of the find is that it isn’t just the dinosaur’s bones. As a matter of fact, the skeletal structure isn’t visible at all—because the flesh and skin of the dinosaur are still fully intact (though fossilized), and even still have some pigmentation to them to show scientists what the dinosaur looked like while alive!

The fossilized remains, with tissue present, of a borealopelta on display at the Royal Tyrrell museum in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada ©Wikimedia Commons

With a broad, low-slung body, scale-like armor covering its back, and a spiny tail, the borealopelta was about 20 feet in length from head to tail and weighed 1.5 tons, or roughly that of a young elephant.

Funk had been digging underground in Northern Alberta when he noticed that the excavator he was using had hit a change in ground texture.

Knowing how fossil-rich the area could be, Funk let his supervisor know what he’d noticed—and before long, they had the Royal Tyrrell Museum out to help with an excavation.

The area being dug had once been underwater, and the borealopelta likely couldn’t swim. It’s unclear how, exactly, this perfectly preserved fossil managed to end up at the bottom of the then-ocean, but the guess is that it somehow drowned and ended up covered in sediment before any prehistoric sharks or other predators could get to the corpse. Over time, it remained trapped under the rocks, impeccably preserved until Funk and his crew found it.

The find was just recently released to the public because thinly stretched resources left the museum to offer up just a single set of hands to slowly brush away the rock surrounding the dinosaur, so it took well over five years to finally be perfectly unearthed.

The find, though, is absolutely invaluable. “It really helps us visualize what these weird dinosaurs would have looked like while alive,” said Victoria Arbour from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.