After nearly a century, this dinosaur finally has its head back.
Paleontologists from the University of Alberta have managed to reunite a headless Corythosaurus skeleton with its skull after over 90 years of separation. Their research can be found in April's edition of the journal Cretaceous Research.
The skull was unearthed in 1920 by George Sternberg, the renowned paleontologist who famously discovered the “fish-within-a-fish" fossil. As good as Sternberg might have been at hunting fossils, it looks like this specimen was a victim of “head hunting”.
As Katherine Bramble, the study author, explained in a statement: "In the early days of dinosaur hunting and exploration, explorers only took impressive and exciting specimens for their collections, such as skulls, tail spines and claws. Now, it's common for paleontologists to come across specimens in the field without their skulls."
Meanwhile, a tourist attraction called Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta has proudly been showing off a headless Corythosaurus skeleton since the 1990s. Corythosaurus is a genus of duck-billed dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous Period, approximately 75 million years ago, with an average length of 9 meters (30 feet).
In debris around the site, there were newspaper clippings about the discovery of a skull back in 1920. This got Darren Tanke, a technician at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, thinking about the skull and headless Corythosaurus skeleton. He brought in Bramble, Philip Currie, and Angelica Torices from the University of Alberta to look into it further.
Anatomical measurements of the skull and the skeleton, as well statistical analysis, strongly suggest that the two belong to the same specimen.
Oddly enough, the fine art of matching dinosaur skulls and skeletons is becoming important in this field of study. As more excavations take place and natural erosion continues to reveal new specimens, more and more headless fossils are coming to the surface. As such, it’s forcing paleontologists to develop new methods to match-up fossils that are now long-separated.
"It's becoming more and more common," added Bramble. "One institution will have one part of a skeleton. Years later, another will collect another part of a skeleton that could belong to the same animal."
"Researchers are now trying to develop new ways of determining whether or not disparate parts of skeletons come from the same animal," she explained. "For this paper, we used anatomical measurements, but there are many other ways of matching, such as conducting a chemical analysis of the rock in which the specimens are found."
The Corythosaurus, complete with its head, now proudly lives at the University of Alberta.