An <i>Albertosaurus</i> pack in bronze, Royal Tyrrell Museum (Wikipedia)

An Albertosaurus pack in bronze, Royal Tyrrell Museum (Wikipedia)

Joseph Burr Tyrrell

NOVEMBER 1, 2018

Scientist of the Day - Joseph Burr Tyrrell

Joseph Burr Tyrrell, a Canadian geologist, was born Nov.1, 1858.  Tyrrell was the first of the great Canadian dinosaur hunters. Trained as a geologist, and working for the Geological Survey of Canada, he was surveying the area along the Red Deer River in southern Alberta in 1884, when he discovered the skull of a large meat-eating dinosaur. He found some additional “post-cranial remains”, as paleontologists like to call any bone that isn’t part of the skull, and sent them off to the new national museum in Ottawa for identification. The specimen was given different names by fossil experts during the next two decades, but for various reasons all turned out to be invalid, until Henry Fairfield Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in 1905, named it Albertosaurus sarcophagus–the” flesh-eating dinosaur of Alberta”.

The Red Deer River deposits that Tyrrell discovered turned out to be a dinosaur gold mine, and later bone hunters such as Barnum Brown and Charles Sternberg unearthed all sorts of new dinosaur types there, including Corythosaurus and Styracosaurus. Although Tyrrell found no other dinosaurs besides the first one, Canadians thought enough of him to name their national dinosaur museum in his honor: The Royal Tyrrell Museum, in Drumheller, Alberta, which opened in 1985 (second image).  That is indeed an Albertosaurus cast greeting you as you enter the museum.

They also have a splendid specimen of Albertosaurus inside on display (third image), and a set of bronze sculptures of a marauding pack of Albertosauri (first image).

The original skull that Tyrrell found, the type specimen, is in a different museum, the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa (fourth image). The portrait below is an early 20th-century steel engraving of Tyrrell.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to