Dino Dakota: Triceratops skull discovery a reminder of the history buried below

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – A 65-million-year-old triceratops skull unearthed in North Dakota is a reminder of what lies below the ground in the northern great plains.

The skull was found by a University of California – Merced student in the Badlands of North Dakota. It’s in an area known as the Hell Creek Formation.

The Hell Creek Formation runs through the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming. It’s an area that has brought probably one of the most well-known dinosaurs ever discovered – Sue.

Sue was found near Faith, South Dakota, in 1990. Pete Larson led the team that discovered the 67-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex.

“This is a really important series of rocks, within this formation, that preserve up until the final moments when the asteroid struck the Earth and destroyed what we normally think of as dinosaurs,” Larson said.

Larson also operates the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, S.D.

Bringing attention to a fossil from millions of years ago is important because it has many scientific impacts on the way we live. Larson points to how it allows us to understand life, climate change and evolution.

“Probably the most important reason for studying dinosaurs and stories like this is dinosaurs really are the gateway drug to science for kids,” Larson said.

Darrin Pagnac agrees.

He’s an associate professor of Geology and Geological Engineering at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. He thinks stories like the discovery in North Dakota, allow kids to start thinking about science.

Harrison Duran poses with Alice.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, MERCED

As for Harrison Duran, the UC-Merced student who found the skull, Pagnac believes he now has the paleontology bug.

“I can’t quite express my excitement in that moment when we uncovered the skull,” Duran said. “I’ve been obsessed with dinosaurs since I was a kid, so it was a pretty big deal.”

Harrison Duran
Duran’s interest in dinosaurs dates back to his childhood.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, MERCED

“These days it’s less about one big discovery that’s going to change the world. It’s much more about a student that finds something, gets fired up and then decides to go into this field and then they devote a lifetime trying to figure things out scientifically,” Pagnac said. “That’s really the way that science gets done these days and that’s a big deal.”

South Dakota’s native dinosaur Sue is now in Chicago. The skeleton is seen by 1.65 million visitors a year to the Field Museum.

“We’re very happy that she’s at the Field Museum, which is probably the second-best place she could be,” Larson said.

The first, according to Larson, would be The Museum at Black Hills Institute in Hill City.

“We’re happy that she’s in a place where literally millions of kids get to see her,” Larson said. “If there’s a happy ending to the story.”

Sue was supposed to stay in Hill City before a nearly decade-long ownership dispute and auction brought her to the Windy City.

“She became basically an iconic image in science and social issues as well,” Larson said. “Her discovery brought a lot of attention to the science of paleontology, to dinosaurs and the weird things that our government does sometimes.”

Learn more about the ownership dispute and the discovery in The Sue Story: A KELOLAND.com Original at the top of this story.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of dinosaur history still in South Dakota. Larson explains there is a lot to see in the Hill City museum.

“It has basically more dinosaurs per square inch than any museum in the world,” Larson said.

The institute is home to STAN, another very complete T-Rex found near Buffalo, South Dakota, in 1987.

Most of the fossils in the museum are from the Hell Creek Formation.

“We as South Dakotans are very lucky to live in this area where the natural history of our planet is preserved. It’s not the complete history, but we have lots of pages of the books that preserve here,” Larson said.

Larson said they hope to add some Triceratops skulls in the near future. The museum, near Mount Rushmore, provides a window into the natural history found in South Dakota and the rest of the world.

“I am particularly fortunate that not only do I live here, but I’m able to actually explore. I can basically become a time traveler and go back in time and look at all these wonderful fossils that have preserved in our area,” Larson said. “You know the more we see, the more we learn.”

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