Creatures from the Cretaceous period welcomed to campus

Dinosaurs and more unveiled at Mount Royal University

Nanotyrannus lancensis

The new exhibit will serve as a conduit to schools and to the community, inspiring a sense of our rich natural history which goes beyond the formal educational programs offered by Mount Royal.

Mount Royal University welcomed creatures from the Cretaceous period on Jan. 11 as three fossils were unveiled near the University's East Gate. Cretaceous Lands is the only display of its kind in the city, with (old) life-sized skeletal casts of two dinosaurs and a marsupial that roamed what is now western North America 65 million years ago.

Calgarians of all ages are invited to experience this unique - and free - exhibit.

Students in Mount Royal University's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, part of the Faculty of Science and Technology, will use the exhibit, along with the existing Cretaceous Seas display, to study the differences between these creatures at a time in Earth's history when dinosaurs were becoming extinct and mammals were on the rise.

"Cretaceous Lands will enhance and complete the Cretaceous Exhibit. It will add to a diverse and growing array of immersive teaching resources and exhibits that augment delivery of the Faculty's curriculum," said Jonathan Withey, DPhil, Dean of Mount Royal University's Faculty of Science and Technology. "The Cretaceous Exhibit is about engaging people, and we want our students to experience the thrill of discovery that comes from the opportunity to learn, interact and engage with geological specimens, rocks, fossils and minerals - all within the University. It will add to our ability to provide an exceptional undergraduate educational experience."

Cretaceous Lands

Cretaceous Lands includes two dinosaurs and an early marsupial.

The rise of mountain ranges along the western edge of North America intensified during the Cretaceous period 145 to 66 million years ago. From these highlands, river systems carried vast quantities of sediment into Alberta where it accumulated in thick layers now exposed by erosion in valleys and badlands. Swampy, subtropical coastal lowlands supported forests of conifers, cycads, ginkgoes and early flowering plants. The lush vegetation fed a diversity of plant-eating dinosaurs that, in turn, were prey for fearsome predators.

Cretaceous Lands includes two dinosaurs and an early marsupial:

  • Nanotyrannus lancensis: Thought by some to be a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex, this agile predator possessed dagger-like teeth and a sleek skeleton, and may have hunted in packs. Others believe it was a distinct species with more teeth in its jaws than the T-rex.
  • Triceratops horridus: Among the most familiar of dinosaurs, Triceratops was a large, four-legged plant eater that weighed up to 12 tonnes. The baby displayed in Cretaceous Lands was probably between one and three years old.
  • Didelphodon vorax: An early marsupial, this pouched mammal is relatively large for the Cretaceous period, when most mammals were mouse- to cat-sized. With short, heavily constructed jaws and blunt premolar teeth, this creature, related to the opossum although semi-aquatic like an otter, likely crushed small prey such as lizards and frogs and the shells of mollusks.

Professor Emeritus Wayne Haglund, PhD, who retired in 2004 after nearly 40 years teaching geology at Mount Royal, is the driving force behind Cretaceous Lands and the preceding Cretaceous Seas exhibit.

"I think the two dinosaurs complement each other quite well," says Haglund. "They are two quite different forms so for comparative purposes and for educational purposes we can see a variety of skeletal differences and changes in the dinosaurs. The little mammal that we got was simply to indicate that this was a time in which the reptiles, especially the dinosaurs, were becoming extinct and here come the mammals sneaking up behind them."

Haglund says he hopes people from all over the city visit Cretaceous Lands, as it is an accessible and affordable option for dinosaur enthusiasts of all ages.

Triceratops horridus

The baby Triceratops displayed in Cretaceous Lands was probably between one and three years old.

"It's a really unique display in Calgary, both Cretaceous Seas and Cretaceous Lands together, and the beautiful thing about it is, it's free. On Sunday, when there's free parking on campus, you can come and have free access to an interesting display of cretaceous reptiles, both sea-dwellers and dinosaurs."

Withey agrees, saying the exhibit offers another excellent reason for Calgarians to spend time at MRU.

"The exhibit will not only represent an additional educational resource for Mount Royal University students, it will also engage the broader community by providing opportunity for thoughtful outreach activities. The new exhibit will serve as a conduit to schools and to our community, inspiring a sense of our rich natural history which goes beyond the formal educational programs offered by the University."

Cretaceous Lands is made possible with donations from the Government of Alberta; Michelle O'Reilly; Alberta Palaeontological Society; Canadian Geological Foundation; Tanya and Brad Zumwalt and Haglund himself.


Cretaceous Lands joins the existing Cretaceous Seas exhibit at Mount Royal University.


Jan. 11, 2018 ― Peter Glenn

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