I love really old animals. Really, really old animals! Not just dinosaurs, but ancient mammals and sea monsters and proto-birds and mysterious undersea critters that have left their imprint in ancient rocks... all of them. And I love thinking about how they and their worlds link up with us and our world.
In fact, I love that so much that I've written two books on the subject: Super Crocs and Monster Wings, and Spiked Scorpions and Walking Whales.
So, imagine my delight at visiting the T. rex Discovery Centre in Eastend, a small town in southwestern Saskatchewan.
Although it was named for Scotty, the Tyrannosaurus rex found nearby, the Discovery Centre is a treasure trove of an amazing range of fossils from the area, from giant sea creatures that swam in the great inland sea that once covered most of the Great Plains to the strange-looking mammals that evolved to fill niches left by the disappearance of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Still, Scotty the T. rex is pretty cool. With more than 65 percent of her skeleton complete, she (probably she) is the most complete T. rex found in Canada so far. Scotty was discovered 20 years ago near Eastend. All her fossil bits are in the Royal Saskatchewan Museum's fossil research lab, which is housed in the Discovery Centre. There's something rather amazing about peering through a huge glass window to see a complete set of fossilized dinosaur vertebrae laid out in order on four large shelves. Not replicas. The real thing!
Coincidentally, in the year that Scotty was discovered, 1991, other scientists discovered the impact site of a huge meteor that struck Earth 65 million years ago and hastened the extinction of the dinosaurs, as well as plenty of other animals. In fact, 75 percent of the species on earth became extinct after that impact.
The meteor left its mark around the world, in a layer of light-coloured clay and ash, often rich in the element iridium, which is more common in meteors than in Earth's crust. It's called the K-T Boundary because it marks the end of the geological time called the Cretaceous Period (it starts with a K in German) and the beginning of the Tertiary Period.
And there it was, too! Not just a diagram of rock layers or a photograph, but a chunk of rock from the Frenchman River Valley with the actual K-T Boundary layer running through it. Below that pale line was rock a dinosaur might have stepped on. Above it was rock that might once have carried the footprint of a mammal exploring its new, dinosaur-free world.
When you spend a lot of time reading about the ancient past, looking at pictures or replicas of fossils, and even writing about it, seeing the real thing right in front of you is a thrill.
Can you tell?