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Saskatchewan River: Early Bird

Beaked dinosaur is missing link to birds

More on the Saskatchewan River:
Saskatchewan River:
From glaciers to grasslands

Early Bird:
Beaked dinosaur is missing link to birds

Dry Bones:
Dinosours abound in Alberta’s badlands

Plains Speaking:
Pioneer in the fight for women’s rights

Last Stand:
The Northwest Rebellions ends Métis autonomy

End of Steel:
Canada's northernmost metropolis

Dirty Thirties:
Prairie life in the era of the Bennett Buggy

Unwild West:
Mounties keep order on the Prairies

Dream of Wheat:
Prosperous farmers feed the world

Wonder City:
Saskatoon sprouts from the Prairie

The badlands of southern Alberta are a treasure-trove for dinosaur investigators. The absence of plant growth and the soft sandstone easily expose the fossilized bones of prehistoric animals.

Alberta's badlands region is where, in 1996, convincing evidence was discovered to support the theory that modern birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs.

Dr. Phil Currie of the Royal Tyrrell Museum does his research from the field station in Dinosaur Provincial Park in the Badlands. He has discovered a fossilized dinosaur with a beak like a bird's. The dinosaur was a familiar species that looked very much like a modern ostrich. But this one was the first that had retained the animal's beak, a soft structure that does not easily fossilize.

Alberta, 65-90 million years ago, was as warm, moist, and sandy as Florida is today. It was an ideal place for dinosaurs to live, and for their bones to be preserved when they died.

Dinosaur fossils originated when bones were buried under protective covers of sand or mud. Over thousands of years, the sand or mud hardened into porous rock. Water gradually dissolved the bones, creating cavities in the rock. As water flowed through the cavities, it left behind mineral deposits that eventually filled the cavities completely and became fossils.

Soft material, such as beaks, usually decayed before the fossilization process could begin. The unusual find of a dinosaur fossil with a beak was the missing link that paleontologists had been seeking to prove what most now believe: dinosaurs never did become extinct. Instead, dinosaurs evolved to become more efficient animals that could fly to find food and to escape their enemies.

“Personally, I think dinosaurs are alive and doing extremely well,” declared Currie. He said 90 percent of his professional colleagues would now agree that “birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs.”

Birds and dinosaurs share about 125 physical characteristics. “If you pluck the feathers off the first bird, the archaeopteryx, it's a dinosaur,” noted Currie.

The theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs first emerged 150 years ago, but was buried under the general belief that dinosaurs all died off in some environmental disaster, such as the crash of a moon-size meteorite.

Alberta's badlands have delivered key evidence to support the revived belief that dinosaurs did not die off at all, but evolved into birds.

In this view, the disappearance of the prehistoric dinosaur was not the failure of a species. Instead, dinosaurs may represent a monumental triumph of evolution.




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