RAPID CITY, S.D. - Scientists at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and the U.S. Forest Service are getting the chance to unravel a millennia-old mystery, thanks to the surprising discovery of a 31-inch completely intact Triceratops brow horn.
A rare, fully intact triceratops fossil recently discovered in eastern Wyoming has been brought to the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology where scientists will look for clues to the 65-million-year-old dinosaur and its environment. Rhonda Fore, a volunteer paleontologist from Perkinston, Miss., works on another fossil in the background. A volunteer with the U.S. Forest Service’s Passport in Time program discovered the dinosaur July 19.
The rare dinosaur discovery occurred July 19 in Thunder Basin National Grassland in eastern Wyoming. Believed to be one of the last dinosaur species to roam the earth, Triceratops existed nearly 65 million years ago. Herbivorous giants up to 30-feet long, they sported two large brow horns and a small horn on their snout.
Scientists at the university's Museum of Geology's Paleontology Research Laboratory will provide curation and storage for the specimen and its associated data and work with the U.S. Forest Service to study clues about the dinosaur and its environment.
Paleontology volunteer Tom Ludwig of the Passport in Time (PIT) program operated by the U.S. Forest Service discovered the fossil. Close partners, the School of Mines houses many Forest Service findings and hosts its PIT program.
The PIT group was not expecting large fossils on the Alkali Creek microsite, prompting participants to bring only small bags to collect their findings. However, as Ludwig, a retired Minnesota state park ranger, began dusting away at a narrow strip of exposed fossil bone, it only continued to grow in size.
Regional North Zone paleontologist Barbara Beasley, who led the expedition at Alkali Creek Paleontological Special Interest Area - where only research and administrative collections are allowed - recalled how the crew was caught off guard by the discovery. "We had to go back and get more plaster and burlap to make a protective jacket around the horn. ... I was very pleased at how well preserved the specimen was."
The brow horn was then transported to the Paleontology Research Laboratory on the School of Mines campus. The PIT group worked carefully to remove the plaster jacket that enclosed the specimen out in the field. Working diligently using air abrasion methods, they then removed dirt tens of millions of years old from the Triceratops horn.
The SDSM&T Museum of Geology's Paleontology Research Laboratory opened in 2010 and is home to more than half a million specimens. It serves as a repository for fossils and data from the U.S. Forest Service and other public land management agencies. In April, Passport in Time was the first professional lab prep course offered in the new building to participants other than SDSM&T students. PIT is a volunteer archaeology, paleontology and historic preservation program of the U.S. Forest Service.
Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls more than 2,400 students from 32 countries, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. The average starting salary for 2012 graduates was $62,696 with a 98 percent placement rate. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu.