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Photo: Kiefer Uuksulainen/Apt613.

Extinction X-ing: Signs of the (prehistoric) times

By Kiefer Uuksulainen on August 17, 2020

Right-of-way road signs at the Canadian Museum of Nature might cause some visitors to do a double-take, since the creatures depicted on them were last seen between 72 million and 12,000 years ago.

Photo: Kiefer Uuksulainen/Apt613.

The pair of signs, one depicting a woolly mammoth and the other a Chasmosaurus irvinensis (a smaller “cousin” of the Triceratops), are a playful homage to the museum’s Centre for Arctic Knowledge and Exploration and renowned horned dinosaur collection.

Accompanying each signpost are fully fleshed-out replicas providing a glimpse into what life looked like during the Late Cretaceous Period and the last Ice Age.

Photos: Kiefer Uuksulainen/Apt613.

Located just past the intersection of McLeod and Metcalfe streets, a mammoth family presides as charismatic museum ambassadors. The trio of mammoths—two adults and one baby—were meticulously handcrafted by the museum’s model makers, who took inspiration from published scientific research and real-life fossils, including the mummified remains of Dima, a woolly mammoth calf found in Siberia, and skeletal remains of fully-grown specimens found in Yukon and Alaska. The result is a trio of breathtakingly detailed, scientifically sound representations that remain a family favourite photo opportunity. The mammoths “live” peacefully in the Landscapes of Canada Gardens, which includes vegetation reminiscent of mammoth steppe, the prominent ecosystem in Yukon during the last Ice Age.

Photo: Kiefer Uuksulainen/Apt613.

Inside the museum, the Canada Goose Arctic Gallery displays a number of fossilized mammoth remains as part of the greater national palaeontology collections.

In addition to its revered Arctic collection, the museum also curates a world-class collection of horned dinosaurs. Keen-eyed visitors may spot Chasmosaurus irvinensis on Metcalfe Street, straddling Argyle and McLeod.

Photo: Kiefer Uuksulainen/Apt613.

Thanks to the generous contributions of museum staff, the replicas proudly commemorate a breakthrough discovery made by museum scientists in the late 1990s. The revelation came during a heated debate among palaeontologists: Were the legs of horned, upright-walking dinosaurs straight, or did they bend at the knees? While examining a particular specimen in the museum’s fossil collection, research staff opened the plaster encasement where they assumed the legs to be and discovered the skull instead. This led to further examination and the uncovering of large openings or “chasms” in the frill of the skull. These physical anomalies were determined to be indicative of a new species.

The skeleton, unearthed in Irvine, Alberta, in 1958, now rests in its “death pose” in the museum’s Fossil Gallery, which houses 30 complete and fully-articulated skeletons in addition to vivid diorama scenes that breathe life into the end of the dinosaur era (85 to 65 million years ago).

The Canadian Museum of Nature, located at 240 McLeod Street in Ottawa, reopens its doors to foot traffic on September 5, 2020—just remember to look both ways before walking through the designated “extinction crossing zones.” Further information about new safety protocols, hours, and procedures can be found here. Visitors can also digitally explore the museum in 360-degrees with the recently launched virtual tour experience.