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World Heritage: Canada


Painting done by Bernard Pelletier of the badlands, a tormented view of rocks.
Painting by Bernard Pelletier
© Parks Canada, Bernard Pelletier

Seventy-five million years ago, what is now eastern Alberta was a low-lying coastal plain at the edge of a large shallow sea. The climate was subtropical, similar to northern Florida today. Countless creatures flourished there — fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, primitive mammals and about 35 species of dinosaur. When some of these animals died, they lay in river channels and mud flats so their bones were buried in new layers of sand and mud. Over time, a combination of pressure, lack of oxygen and deposition of minerals produced fossils — impressions of the bones, teeth and skin of those creatures that once roamed ancient Alberta. Over more time, new layers of sediments covered the fossils and preserved them.

And so it was until the end of the latest Ice Age, 13,000 years ago, a mere wink in geological time, when glacial ice scraped off the upper layers of rock. Huge volumes of meltwater carved deep into the soft sandstone and mudstone strata, exposing the fossil-bearing sediments and, in the process, creating the Red Deer River Valley. Its haunting hoodoos, isolated mesas and low-lying coulees are at the heart of Alberta’s badlands and contain the greatest concentration of Late Cretaceous dinosaur fossils yet found on Earth.

More than 300 first-quality dinosaur skeletons have been pulled from a 27-kilometre stretch along the Red Deer River since digging began there in the 1880s. And dozens of these now grace museum space in 30 cities around the world. Since 1985 the largest collection of treasures from the park has been housed in the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, in Drumheller, a two-hour drive northwest of the park.

More information

World Heritage Centre Web site:
World Heritage - Dinosaur Provincial Park

Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation Web site:
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Royal Tyrrell Museum Web page

More Images

Aerial view of badlands, a tormented view of rocks. Badlands
© Parks Canada, Ian K. MacNeil
An aerial view of the badlands, a tormented view of rocks. Aerial view
© Parks Canada, Ian K. MacNeil
Bones of dinosaurs amongst rocks. In situ fossils
© Royal Tyrrell Museum / Alberta Community Development
Picture of the skeleton of a Parasaurolophus, a middle size dinosaur, on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum that was found in Dinosaur Provincial Park. Parasaurolophus
© Royal Tyrrell Museum / Alberta Community Development