Our HistoryThe Naming of...

We are named after Joseph Burr Tyrrell (TEER-uhl) (1858-1957), a 26-year-old geologist who, while working for the Geological Survey of Canada in this region, stumbled upon an impressive skull of Canada’s first known meat-eating dinosaur.


Joseph Burr Tyrrell

After joining the Geological Survey of Canada in 1881, Joseph Burr Tyrrell discovered a significant coal seam near the town of Fernie, British Columbia. To reward this success, he was sent to southern Alberta to lead a team of researchers in the exploration of a large district north of the Bow River.

Tyrrell and his team travelled south of Red Deer by canoe along the Red Deer River. On June 12, 1884, Tyrrell discovered extensive coal deposits in what is now known as the Red Deer River valley. These deposits became Canada’s largest base for domestic coal mining and fuelled the economy until the discovery of oil and gas in Leduc, in 1947.

On August 12, 1884, he stumbled upon a 70-million-year-old dinosaur skull, the first of its species ever found, just a few kilometres from where the Museum now stands. Although he wasn’t a palaeontologist, he realized his discovery was significant. After carefully removing the fossil from its resting place, and taking great care to transport it safely to Calgary during what would be a week-long journey, it was shipped to Ottawa where it eventually ended up at the National Museum of Natural Sciences. From there, the skull made its way to Professor Edward Drinker Cope at the Philadelphia Academy of Science, where it was identified as Laelaps incrassatus.

Years later, the skull was again examined and scientifically described, this time by American Museum of Natural History palaeontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn. It was renamed Albertosaurus sarcophagus (“Flesh-eating lizard from Alberta”) in 1905, the same year Alberta become a province.

Joseph Tyrrell left the Geological Survey in 1898 and moved to Dawson City where he became a mining consultant. In 1906 he moved back to Ontario where he continued consulting until 1924. He died at his home in Toronto at the age of 98.

Eventually, Alberta became known for its rich fossil resources, and palaeontologists from the United States and Canada came in droves, eager to claim the finest specimens for their Museums. The period from 1910–1917 later became known as the “Great Dinosaur Rush.”

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©2010 Government of Alberta and ©2010 Royal Tyrrell Museum | Last Review/Update - January 30,2018