Hudson’s Hope Resident Finds Dinosaur Skin Impressions in Tumbler Ridge

This is Michelle Beam of Hudson's Hope alongside the dinosaur skin impression she found on June 23.

For Immediate Release
June 26, 2003

Hudson’s Hope resident Michelle Beam had no idea when she registered for a week-long UNBC Geography course at NLC’s Tumbler Ridge campus she would defy the odds and discover rare skin impressions in a dinosaur footprint.

Michelle arrived in Tumbler Ridge on Monday, June 23, for Geography 498, under the instruction of Wim Kok, Northern Lights College instructor from Fort St. John. Monday evening, Dr. Charles Helm – local physician, author and executive member of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation – delivered a slide show presentation to the class of 11 students. Following the presentation, Mr. Kok and his students accompanied Dr. Helm on a tour to view the dinosaur footprints at the Wolverine track site.

During the slide show, Dr. Helm had illustrated what skin impressions in a dinosaur footprint look like. On the tour, Michelle, who works in the Visitor Information Centre in neighboring Hudson’s Hope, said she was "standing an inch away from this thing and just sort of staring at my feet…all of a sudden it jumped out at me." She pointed it out to Dr. Helm, but never imagined her discovery would amount to anything. "I thought Charles was joking when he said it could be real. I’m just an average joe, not a scientist - there’s no "Dr." in front of my name."

Dr Helm said he experienced a deja vu feeling, as in 2002 a visiting archaeologist, Nicole Nicholls of Fort St John, had been on a tour with him and correctly pointed out the region's first skin impressions. Michelle's discovery is of a much larger area of more well preserved impressions, with less potential for erosion. Dr Helm commented: "Sometimes it's amazing what a new pair of eyes can see."

Helm immediately contacted footprint expert Rich McCrea, who had just arrived in Tumbler Ridge to prepare for the excavation of BC’s first, and western Canada’s oldest, dinosaur. McCrea confirmed the skin impressions are authentic, rare and belong to an ornithopod, or large plant-eating dinosaur. "Certain groups of dinosaurs have certain textures to their skin. The prints Michelle found have a polygonal pattern typical of an ornithopod."

Samples of ankylosaur skin impressions, which have a pattern of round tubercles, have been found in the Pine River area and in Alberta. Says McCrea, "In a well-preserved footprint, you can identify what animal made it. The Wolverine site has shallow prints, so skin impressions provide another tool to identify the creature."

The Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation has had the tremendous good fortune to work with experts and scientists from Canada’s leading palaeontological institutions and has established an unprecedented working relationship between amateurs and professionals. When scientific information is shared - as it is each time a tour is conducted or a presentation is delivered - people like Michelle are given the tools and knowledge to make discoveries like this.

The find is more significant because footprints are considered abstract, being "trace fossils" as opposed to physical remains, like a bone. They are difficult to find in daylight and seldom recognized by an untrained eye. He complimented Michelle on her amazing discovery by saying "Michelle obviously has a really good eye…she can come and work for me."

She has no plans to become a scientist, but Michelle is delighted with her contribution to science. She says, "It’s great PR, the fact that people like me can come to this area and still find new things. Our communities should be developing it cooperatively as a tourist attraction."

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