Shawn worked as a heavy equipment operator for Canada’s largest energy company, Suncor. His job had him working all over Canada. This job had him working at the Millennium Mine. It is part of the Athabasca Oil Sands project in eastern Alberta. Shawn’s job was difficult, but the pay was good. Business was booming, and he enjoyed going to work each day.
The Athabasca Oil Sands are deposits that are formed from the remnants of ancient marine creatures and plants that had died off hundreds of millions of years ago. Time caused them to turn to fossils. Close to 70 percent of the world’s oil sand deposits are in northern Alberta, and Athabasca is the largest one. This area is not considered an oil reserve because refining the sand wouldn’t be profitable.
The Athabasca Site
Work began in the Athabasca site in 1967. It wasn’t until 2000 that business really started booming. People were flocking to the town of Fort McMurray looking for work in the oil sands, working with natural gas, and on pipelines. This is what drew Shawn to the area in the first place. He was looking for work, and he got plenty of it.
It Started Out As a Typical Day
Shawn was assigned to an area where deposits could be extracted through surface mining. He would go to work and operate his excavator. All day, he would dig through layers of rock, dirt, and sand. Later, they would be filtered to extract valuable bitumen. On most days, it was monotonous work. On this day, the monotony was broken when he came across something shocking.
Hitting Something Hard
Shawn was digging like he did each day when he hit something hard. It was much harder than the normal rock that he excavated. He stopped digging and emptied his bucket into the next pit. He checked to see what he hit, and it was walnut colored rock. He had never seen anything like this before, and he knew it was important. He turned off his excavator, and he called his supervisor, Mike Gratton.
Checking It Out
Shawn and Mike looked at the weird lumps wondering what they could be. When Shawn flipped one of the rocks over, they did a double take. There were even rows of light-brown circles with gray stone in between. Shawn had been digging for 12-years, and he never saw anything like this. Mike told Shawn that they had to have the rock examined by a professional.
Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller
Mike contacted the museum of paleontology which was located 420-miles away from the site. The museum thought that there was merit and they set Dr. Donald Henderson and a veteran technician, Darren Tanke to check things out. Suncor sent a private jet for them to get to the mine. When they arrived, they discovered that it could be a dinosaur fossil. Getting the fossil separated from the rest of the rock wasn’t easy. They each worked 12-hour shifts to get them separated.
Getting It From the Hole
When the team whittled the rock down to a 15,000-pound rock, they had to get it out of the hole. They dug two tunnels beneath the block of stone and place wood beams inside. This made it possible for them to whittle the rest of the rock down. The first time they tried to lift the rock out, it collapsed under the weight. Hoping to save the remaining pieces, they covered them with burlap and plaster for safe travel. They were then loaded to a truck.
Separating the Fossil
It wasn’t easy to separate the fossil from the rock. It took the team five years and over 7,000 hours to finally free the fossil. It turned out that it was a dinosaur fossil. It was very well preserved complete with scales, armor, and visible skin. It came from the Cretaceous period, and it was a nodosaur. It was the best-preserved fossil the museum had ever seen, and finally, they could put it on display for the public. All of the hours that the team worked finally paid off.
Shawn’s Major Find
This guy finds ancient relic, but when he flips it over the weirdest thing happens. He found a fossil that had been hidden from the world for thousands of years. Shawn went to work that day never expecting to find anything special. In all of his years working as a heavy equipment operator, he never found anything significant. He says that he is thrilled that he suspected something when he hit that rock. If he hadn’t and continued digging, this incredible fossil could have been lost forever.