Fossil Fuelled

Dino Lab is recreating the age of dinosaurs one fragment at a time.

Dino Labs - Douglas Oct/Nov 2023
Dino Lab’s Carly Burbank holds the toothy skull of a tyrannosaurus. Photo By: Jeffrey Bosdet.

Husband and wife Terry Ciotka and Carly Burbank opened their fossil restoration business Dino Lab 18 years ago. What started as just the two of them working out of a garage in Calgary has grown to a team of 17 in a massive warehouse in James Bay. Together, they restore fossils and sell them to collectors and museums. Currently, they’re working on seven fossil reconstructions including a juvenile tyrannosaurus and three triceratops. 

But what is Dino Lab’s business model? Burbank breaks it down. 

When the lab finds or is approached with dinosaur bones, it first locates a funder — sometimes a museum, sometimes a private collector — willing to pay up front for the restoration process. This can cost millions of dollars, which the lab needs to fund the painstaking, years-long process of restoring a specimen. With funding lined up, Dino Lab then has the fossils transported to its Victoria facility. And it’s there experts separate bones from surrounding rock and piece them back together. Its team includes a specialized technician who recreates missing bones with a 3D printer and another who paints them to match the genuine bone. Once completed, specimens are shipped to their funder. 

Dino Lab’s business doesn’t stop there. In 2019, it opened its doors to the public and now offers 90-minute tours where visitors can check out lab facilities and dinosaur specimens, and watch lab staff gingerly cleaning bones with picks and pneumatic drills. 

What makes Dino Lab tours unique is that visitors are encouraged to touch and handle specimens, which include mammoth hair, razor-sharp megalodon teeth, dinosaur bones and eggs, a small but weighty meteorite and even fossilized poop. 

Burbank says what she loves most about her job is seeing visitors’ reactions while on a tour. “It’s one thing to know that dinosaurs roamed the Earth millions of years ago,” she says, “but to hold tangible evidence of that in your hands is a truly special moment in someone’s life.”