Discovering the priceless Hadrosaur skeleton in Alberta this June was a major boon for Dr. Phil Bell of the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative — until something went wrong.
The Hadrosaur — a duck-billed dinosaur — fossil was irreparably destroyed by an unknown vandal last week in what has become the latest in a series of Canadian dino crimes. After discovering the 23-foot-long remains June 15 and working on them for over a week, Bell and his crew carefully reburied the bones until they could be more fully excavated. But when he returned on July 5 to the site near Grande Prairie in northwestern Alberta, the paleontologist discovered the prehistoric skeleton in shambles. As Bell told the QMI agency:
“This was destined to become a major exhibit in the new museum. Of course, now it’s really compromised. It’s not really a skeleton any more. It’s more of a jumble of bones… Maybe there’s a few things that are still complete in there, but as far as the exhibit was concerned, that’s no longer feasible.”
“We still know very little about the dinosaurs that existed up here so every skeleton is crucial,” Bell said in a statement, according to the Canadian Press. “Each bone is irreplaceable.”
The fossils were “smashed indiscriminately,” Bell said in his release, adding that no large parts of the remains were obviously missing. The vandals “had actually torn off [a] plaster cover and just destroyed most of the bones that were exposed,” he told the QMI agency.
Bell said that dinosaur fossils have no real monetary value, and are in fact illegal to sell. A Tyrannosaurus bataar fossil recently sold for $1.052 million at auction in the U.S., but was seized by federal agents and is being sent back to Mongolia, where it was discovered. Damaging or poaching fossils is punishable in Canada by fines of up to $40,000 and a year in prison.
Despite these penalties, the Hadrosaur incident was not the only recent fossil crime in Canada: Bell’s group said this is at least the fourth such crime. At Pipestone Creek Park — near where Bell found the Hadrosaur — a bone bed was found damaged in May. Later that month, a Plexiglas case containing several bones was destroyed. In June, the Canadian Press reports, dinosaur vertebra and several rib bones were also stolen.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police told the Canadian Press that they are investigating the incidents, but do not yet have any suspects.