Nathan Hrushkin, 12, stumbled upon a young hadrosaur thought to be between 3 and 4 years old

By Rachel DeSantis
October 16, 2020 01:59 PM
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Nathan Hrushkin and his dad Dion
| Credit: The Nature Conservancy of Canada

A 12-year-old boy with dreams of becoming a paleontologist got a kickstart on his career goals this summer when he stumbled upon the bones of a 69-million-year-old dinosaur.

Nathan Hrushkin and his dad Dion were hiking on a conservation area in Canada’s Horseshoe Canyon in July when they came across partially exposed bones, the Nature Conservancy of Canada said on Thursday.

“My dad and I have been visiting this property for a couple of years, hoping to find a dinosaur fossil, and we’ve seen lots of little bone fragments,” he said in a statement.

This time, however, his discovery was more than a fragment, and after sending photos to the Royal Tyrrell Museum for confirmation, Nathan soon learned that he’d come across the bones of a young hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur.

Hadrosaur bones
| Credit: The Nature Conservancy of Canada

Because fossil reports from Horseshoe Canyon are rare, the museum sent a team out to the site, where they found an additional 30 to 50 bones in the walls of the canyon, the conservancy said.

Experts determined that the bones — four limbs, hips, shoulders and a partial skull — all belong to the same creature, a hadrosaur estimated to be about 3 or 4 years old.

Though the conservancy said that hadrosaurs are the most common fossils found in the area, Nathan’s discovery is special because of the dino’s age and because it was found in a rock formation.

“This young hadrosaur is a very important discovery because it comes from a time interval for which we know very little about what kind of dinosaurs or animals lived in Alberta,” François Therrien, curator of dinosaur paleoecology at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, said in a statement. “Nathan and Dion’s find will help us fill this big gap in our knowledge of dinosaur evolution.”

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There are many species of hadrosaur, so experts will pay special attention to the partial skull that was found in order to narrow it down.

For Nathan, who’s wanted to be a paleontologist for six or seven years, the find summed up just about everything he loves about the topic.

“I am fascinated about how bones from creatures that lived tens of millions of years ago become these fossil rocks, which are just sitting on the ground waiting to be found,” he said.

The fossils were found on the canyon’s Nodwell property, which geological records indicate has sandstones, mudstones, coal seams, volcanic ash and fossils that could date back to 71 million to 68 million years ago.