royal alberta museum
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visitors since 1967

Research & Projects

Mammoth tooth collected from near Edmonton, AB.

Our current research program has three major themes that focus on understanding different aspects of the Ice Age record in Alberta and western North America. First, we are developing a framework that will allow us to better understand the response of animals to broad climatic and geologic change over long periods of time. Specifically, we are working to examine changes in the structure of animal assemblages in Alberta both before and after the last major glacial advance, when animals were likely absent from much of the Alberta landscape. Current projects focus on describing fossils of megafauna (e.g., mammoths, muskoxen) from central Alberta, and examining differences in the abundance of those animals through time.

Fieldwork in a cave in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

Another research theme focuses on understanding the fossil history of mountainous areas of western North America (e.g., Canadian Rocky Mountains). This is challenging because fossils do not readily preserve in mountainous regions. Past and current research efforts focus on examining fossils preserved in caves, which provide an important source of information for understanding the Ice Age history of animals that made their home in mountainous areas. We have recently been working with colleagues from Parks Canada to excavate new localities near Jasper, AB.

Finally, we are working towards developing a better understanding of variation in the skeleton of individual species that are preserved in the Ice Age record of Alberta. Our ability to identify animals in the fossil record is dependent upon our understanding of both inter-specific (between species) and intra-specific (within a species) variation within the skeleton. We are currently working on a project that compares similarities and differences between fossil teeth of pikas collected from Alberta Caves with teeth from modern populations of pikas from northern North America.

Ochotona princeps (American pika) near Mt. Edith Cavell.

Previous research at the museum focused heavily on past animal distributions, palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, chronology (timing), and the overall history of glacial events in the province. Radiocarbon dating of bones from sites studied by Royal Alberta Museum staff members helped to redefine the glacial history of the province. Other notable research efforts included collaborative research focused on the retrieval of ancient DNA from fossil specimens. Those studies provided new perspectives on the biogeography and evolution of several Ice Age mammals. For more information, please see our publications by current and former staff.