100-million-year-old tracks uncovered at B.C. coal mine and preserved in Tumbler Ridge Museum
A discovery by an employee at Teck Resources Limited’s (“Teck”) Quintette Project, south of Tumbler Ridge in British Columbia’s Peace Region, has turned out to be one of the finest examples of fossil crocodilian tracks in the world.
Geologist Kevin Sharman already has a string of important fossil discoveries to his credit in the area. When he encountered an intriguing series of large rock slabs in the mine on April 27th, 2015, he knew that what he was looking at was different and special.
The discovery was reported right away to the scientists at the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre in Tumbler Ridge (the research arm of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation).
Richard McCrea, Curator of Palaeontology at the museum, said: “There are well over 100 tracks, almost all of which are crocodilian. Partial trackways with complete hand and footprints are visible. Most of the tracks are associated with claw impressions, which are very long and represent the activities of bottom-walking and swimming crocodiles. The traces are striking in appearance and are among the best preserved crocodilian tracks ever found. Our staff and associates will fully describe these specimens for the scientific literature.”
Museum staff (Richard McCrea, Tammy Pigeon and Linda Amos) began work on creating latex moulds of the four track-bearing slabs on May 11th. Before moulding the museum crew excavated some of the slabs to expose all of the surfaces. Hundreds of digital photographs were taken to create high-fidelity 3D computer models. Latex was applied in many layers over the next few weeks, and staff recovered the moulds on June 4th. This allows for the production of replicas of the track-bearing surfaces and the creation of an exhibit in the museum’s Dinosaur Discovery Gallery.
The track-bearing rocks are from the coal-bearing Gates Formation, and are about 100 million years old. The two larger blocks have surface areas of up to two square metres and a mass of approximately 5000 kilograms each. Mine staff are planning on moving them from their current locality to the museum. Here they will be stored in the new collections building, specifically designed to house such large and heavy specimens.
These crocodilian tracks are the latest in a series of internationally significant fossil trackway discoveries in B.C.’s Peace Region. Recent announcements have included the only tyrannosaurid trackways in the world and the “Dinosaur Autobahn”, a megatrackway site. Partly in recognition of this magnificent fossil record, the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark was admitted to the Global Geoparks Network, supported by UNESCO, in 2014. One of 111 Global Geoparks worldwide , it is one of only two in North America and the first in the west.
“Teck is extremely proud of the collaborative relationships that have been established between our steelmaking coal operations and the palaeontological research community,” said Ray Proulx, Senior Coordinator of Community and Aboriginal Affairs for Teck in Northeastern B.C. “We are happy to have facilitated the identification and study of this significant find, which will help shed light on another chapter in our planet’s history.”
Mike Bernier, MLA for Peace River South, commented: “It is great that another discovery has been added to the already amazing collection of the Tumbler Ridge Museum. It is the partnership between the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation and Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre and the industry in the region that is allowing these great discoveries to be seen by the world and putting Tumbler Ridge on the map.”
Mayor of Tumbler Ridge Don McPherson commented: “The wonderful discovery by Kevin Sharman and the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation once again proves that Tumbler Ridge is home to some of the most exciting fossil trackways in the world. This discovery also exemplifies the cooperation that Tumbler Ridge continues to enjoy with the industry that operates within our borders. We are excited to see this new addition to Tumbler Ridge’s new Global Geopark.”
The Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark’s formal inauguration ceremony will take place on June 29th at the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, where a replica of the newly discovered crocodilian trackways will be on exhibit. Guests of honour will include The Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia; The Honourable Shirley Bond (Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training), and Dr Godfrey Nowlan (Chair of the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks).