RSM-McGill Fieldwork 2014

The abundant fossil-bearing formations of Saskatchewan brought paleontologists from across the country to work with the RSM this summer. In August 2014, the RSM vertebrate and invertebrate paleo teams were joined by a group from Montreal’s McGill University for an exciting paleontological adventure in southwest Saskatchewan. The McGill group was headed by paleontologist Dr. Hans Larsson, who has been working in the province, in collaboration with the RSM, since 2005. This summer, our joint two-week-long field expedition took us to a fossil locality on Lake Diefenbaker, as well as to fossil sites in Herschel (near Rosetown), Eastend, and the East Block of Grasslands National Park. By the end of the trip, we had collected over 20 field jackets containing dinosaur material, hundreds of terrestrial and marine vertebrate microfossils, and even some coal and fossil plants!

The exciting story in pictures:

Lake Diefendbaker

Our dinosaur fossil locality on Lake Diefenbaker.


The Lake Diefenbaker site is by the beach today. Interestingly, it was also a beach when the dinosaurs lived there in the Late Cretaceous period – but this was a real seaside beach. The distinct bedding patterns we find (like the example above), as well as the fossil themselves, tell us the site was right on the edge of the Western Interior Seaway.


Within five minutes of arriving at the Lake Diefenbaker site, we found a tooth from a tyrannosaurid dinosaur. The rocks here predate the arrival of T. rex onto the Cretaceous scene, so this tooth likely came from a smaller, older tyrannosaurid, such as Albertosaurus.

Larsson and students digging

Dr. Hans Larsson (second on the left) and his students get to work digging right away. The Lake Diefenbaker site is a bonebed, meaning there are more than one individual preserved here.

Larsson mapping specimens

Once the bones in the bonebed are exposed, they are carefully mapped. Here, Dr. Larsson (left) is mapping specimens using quarry stakes and a grid.

Big Dig

Sometimes paleontology requires us to dig really big holes to reach the bone layer.


But we do find some time to relax!

Lake Diefenbaker bonebed

Temperatures in the Lake Diefenbaker bonebed reached +40°C on some of the days. Hats, sunscreen and water were all mandatory! Footwear… optional.

Ryan and Donald

Due to the weight of our collecting equipment and jacketed fossils (the heaviest was ~50lbs), a boat was brought to the site to help move these items. Here, Dr. Ryan McKeller, the RSM’s Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology, and McGill student Donald Fowler, get ready to weight anchor with our collecting equipment!


Jacketed specimens from the Lake Diefenbaker bonebed, ready to be moved to a lab for preparation.

K-Pg Boundary

Our field work also took us to the East Block of Grasslands National Park (GNP), where the rocks capture the last 500 000 years before the dinosaur extinction. GNP contains some of the finest exposures of the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg, formally K-T) Boundary – the thin layer of clay the marks the dinosaur mass extinction worldwide - found anywhere in the world. In this photo, Dr. Larsson is pointing at the K-Pg Boundary.


In GNP, we were a part of the Parks ‘Fossil Festival and Badlands Blast’. Many visitors, including these young aspiring paleontologists, came out to the site to see field paleontology in action.


GNP is famous for its microvertebrate fossil sites, known as ‘microsites’. Even a handful of fossils from a microsite – like the one shown above – can be used to study paleobiodiversity. In this handful of fossils, a crocodile, at least three kinds of fish, two kinds of turtle, and a Champsosaur are represented.

Badlands Blast

GNP’s ‘Badlands Blast’ paid homage to one of Canada’s greatest geologists, George Mercer Dawson (portrayed here by one of the Park staff). In 1874, Dawson found and collected western Canada’s first dinosaur fossil in what is now the East Block of Grasslands National Park. (Interestingly, Dawson’s father, Sir John William Dawson, was a long-standing principal of McGill University).


Our GNP fossil site contained the associated skeleton of a hadrosaur (‘duck-bill’) dinosaur. In this photo McGill students Sarah Popov and Donald Fowler carefully uncover the humerus (upper arm bone).

Jacketing, transporting and storing

Volunteer Jasmine helps put a field jacket on the bone to protect it for transportation and storage.

Back at the Lab

Back at the RSM lab in Eastend, the McGill students help to organize and catalogue some of the material collected.


RSM-McGill crew ‘selfie’ in front of the T. rex Centre.


All in all, the joint RSM-McGill field season was a tremendous success! Each trip into the field and each fossil collected helps us to gain valuable insight into Saskatchewan’s ancient past, and helps us to better understand, study and protect our province’s valuable fossil resources.