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They dig dinosaurs: Symposium brings together amateurs and professionals

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The Alberta Palaeontological Society hosts its annual symposium on Saturday, after a two-year pandemic hiatus.

Mona Trick, an organizer of the free event, says Paleo 2023 will see scientists host sessions for professional and amateur palaeontologists.

"And that's one of the nice things about this symposium is we have a lot of experts there," Trick said.

"So people can come and bring their fossils if they want (to learn what species it is) and ask at the table and we know somebody who will be able to say (for example), 'Yes, this is a vertebrae from a ceratopsian.'"

The one-day symposium is at Mount Royal University and Trick says the event has been running in Calgary for 26 years.

The society has more than 100 members from seven to 90 years old who have a passion for hunting fossils.

"This thrill of discovery (is) to find something new and especially if the researchers are excited about it, it's like, 'Yes!'" she said.

Trick says visitors to the symposium learn about the rules they need to know if they come across a fossil in the province.

"We tell them that the Alberta regulations are such that you can pick up fossils that are lying on top of the ground," she said.

"You're not allowed to dig, but you can pick them up and you're the holder (or custodian) of the fossils, so you can't sell them, can't barter them or give them away."

Jared Voris, a University of Calgary PhD candidate who is an expert on tyrannosaurs, is a presenter at the symposium.

"I've done several publications on tyrannosaurs now and there are several, several more in the works to basically really revise the way that we understand the biology of these animals," he said.

"These include just describing how it is that they went from a young, juvenile animal to an adult all the way up to like, describing their anatomy in new species and even looking at how it is they evolved."

Voris says there are several different species of tyrannosaurs and a lot of them can be found in Alberta.

He says most people key on the massive T-Rex but there is the albertosaurus (named after the province), gorgosaurus, daspletosaurus – all sorts of different species – and he's studying their evolution.

"How they went from being these really small kind of underfoot predators back millions and millions of years before they got big," Voris said.

"Then, very quickly, ascended into a role that was an apex predator and that's something that I might be talking a little bit about (on Saturday).”

John Issa is also presenting at Paleo 2023 but comes from a different background.

He's the vice-president of business development with Korite International, specializing in mining ammolite.

"Ammolite is the gemstone that derives from the ammonite fossil. It's only found one place in the world in southern Alberta and it's actually our provincial gemstone," Issa said.

"They're from late Cretaceous, so they're about 75 to 71 million years old."

Korite staff are mining south of Lethbridge on the banks of the Saint Mary River in the Bearpaw Formation.

Ammonites are randomly deposited through the shale, where Issa says workers have to move football field of material to get a shoebox of ammolite, and they've made other discoveries while digging.

"Well, the thrill of discovery, there's nothing like it, there really isn't," he said.

"Every ammonite that we find is numbered and inspected by the province of Alberta. When we find a fossil, it actually belongs to the province … and we've found marine reptiles, we found mosasaurs, elasmosaurus, plesiosaurs, we found a few dinosaurs in our mine, we've found some fish, we find some clams – all kinds of stuff."

Paleo 2023 takes place Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Jenkins Theatre on the lower level of the main building at Mount Royal University and is free to the public.

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