The auditions for this "Idol" series had none of the usual talentless weirdness of the network TV versions. The contestants just had to show up encased in burlap and white plaster and be at least 65 million years old.
That was no problem for Canada's Museum of Nature in Ottawa. It has a warehouse filled with over 200 of them.
Simon Cowell would have had to watch his tongue, though. At least one of the five finalists would have bitten off the top half of his body after one of his acerbic tirades. The winner would have just batted him out of the studio with his tail club.
That's right, folks, the nature museum's "Dino Idol" contest wasn't just a paleontological success, it was a runaway victory for the vegan tail club swinger, Ankylosaur. His first place finish could add to our understanding of the species; greater detail on what it looked like, how it died, and through its death, clues about how it lived.
Paleobiology curator Kieran Shepherd couldn't have been happier with the choice of thousands of museum goers.
"It's funny. In the contest of the five, that the one that was chosen — the Ankylosaur — was the one, of those five, that I found most interesting. Just because we have so little Ankylosaur material in our collection," Shepherd told the CBC News
This year's competition was a first and it was the brainchild of Jordan Mallon, a paleontologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature.
"We're always trying to look for new ways to engage the public in what we're doing at the museum. And so "Dino Idol" just struck me as a good way to involve them," said Mallon.
Each of the five contestants were giant white lumps of plaster with dinosaur bones inside and some field notes associated with them. They all got nicknames that had something to do with what the museum thought they were:
- "Headrosaur" was the skull of a duck-billed hadrosaurid.
- "Mystery Jaw" contained the razor-sharp chompers of a carnivorous dinosaur, like a Gorgosaurus or Daspletosaurus.
- "Stumpy" was the head of a ceratopsid, perhaps an Arrhinoceratops.
- "Regal Ed" was the partial skeleton of another duck-bill. He got his name because his head has already been prepared and identified as Edmontosaurus Regalis.
- "Canadian Club" the back half — or business end — of an Ankylosaur.
So what does "Canadian Club" win?
Its bones will be removed from the 100-year-old packaging, reconstructed and added to the museum's collection.
The process of uncovering the bones is laborious and delicate. Layers of burlap and newspaper hardened with plaster have to be cut and pried off the dirt underneath. When that layer is removed, dirt and stone have to be carefully chipped off and brushed. Eventually, the scientists hope to reveal the Ankylosaur's armour plating, something rarely found on fossils of this tank of a beast.
The bones of the five contestants and dozens of others were collected in the 1910s and 1920s.
"During the first say 20, 25 years of the last century, a lot of the major museums in Canada, the United States and Europe went out to the west and collected dinosaurs. It was like a mini dinosaur rush," explained Shepherd.
The Ottawa museum, which was owned by the Geological Survey of Canada at the time, hired Charles H. Sternberg and his three sons — Charlie, Levi and George — to scour Red Deer Valley north of Drumheller, Alta., in search of any dinosaur fossils they could find. They started in 1912 and carried on into the 1920s. All their finds were wrapped in plaster and shipped back to Ottawa to be opened and rebuilt later.
In the case of most of the fossils, much later.
"The reason for our stockpile basically boils down to the fact that it's very easy to collect dinosaurs and it's not so easy to prepare them," said Mallon.
Mallon, Shepherd and the museum's crew of paleontologists hope to have Ankylosaur dusted off, pieced together and ready to be "Idol"-ized within a year.