New species of dinosaur found in Alberta Badlands, named Hannah for now

The discovery of the specimen known as 'Hannah' helps researchers bridge the historical gap in the evolution of horned dinosaurs.

'Beautiful' skull likely bridges historical gap in horned-dinosaur evolution, palaeontologist says

Scott Persons says discovering Hannah is by far his most exciting dig to date. (Amanda Kelley)

A new species of dinosaur is so recently discovered it doesn't even have a name yet — so the fresh specimen from Alberta's Dinosaur Provincial Park is simply known as Hannah, for now. 

The species is in the Ceratopsian family — think Cera for those of us who only know dinosaurs from The Land Before Time — and it potentially bridges the evolutionary gap between the Centrosaurus and the Styracosaurus.

A new species of dinosaur has been unearthed in Alberta's Dinosaur Provincial Park. University of Alberta paleontologist Scott Persons, the man who made the discovery, talks about finding the new species.

In fact, Hannah wouldn't be much different from either of those two previously-discovered species, except that its horns show a combination of characteristics from both. 

There's still some work to be done, however, to confirm its distinct place in the evolutionary tree. 

Scott Persons, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta, told The Calgary Eyeopener that it is by far the most exciting thing he's ever discovered. 

"I'm incredibly thrilled, but discovering it in the field, it's a really slow burn," Persons said.

The discovery of the new species was made over the course of days while they extracted the animal's skull last summer. 

Hannah's skull was found in Dinosaur Provincial Park in the summer of 2015. This summer they returned to see what other parts of her body they could dig up. (Amanda Kelley)

The primary purpose of a dinosaur's horns were defence, Persons explained, but there was also a social aspect to them.

Evolution would have continued to change the horns of dinosaurs over time, and that's likely what is being seen here with Hannah.

Where she was found in the earth's surface is important, because the Centrosaurus has been found in deeper layers of earth, while the Styracosaurus has been found in higher strata.

Hannah was found in between the two, which shows it likely bridges an evolutionary gap between the two species. 

Hannah's skull was discovered in 2015, and in June this year the team returned to see what remained of her skeleton to be unearthed.

As it turns out, Hannah's skeleton is nearly complete. The team will return again next summer to complete the dig.

For every hour spent in the field, another 10 hours will be spent in the lab doing analysis, Persons said. That will be where they confirm and document this new species. 

"There's still a lot of the work that needs to be done, even though we've gotten a lot of the bones up and out of the field, we still have to do a lot of the very close cleaning and preparation work back at the laboratory," Persons said.

"Once that's done, we can take the detailed measurements and really start to say for sure what's going on."

Hannah was found horn first, the tip peeking out of the dirt in Alberta's Badlands.

Since Persons was the one to find her, he was the one who earned the right to give her the nickname Hannah, inspired by his beloved dog, who sometimes helps on digs, Persons said.


Sarah Lawrynuik is a freelance journalist who reports on climate change and conflict and is currently based in London, UK. She's covered news stories across Canada and from a dozen countries around the world, including Ukraine, Hungary, France and Iraq. She has also worked for CBC News in Halifax, Winnipeg and Calgary.