Over the summer, four dinosaurs were unearthed in Montana by paleontologists from the University of Washington (UW) and its Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, in addition to K-12 educators, volunteers, and students from UW as well as other universities. The fossils were discovered at the Hell Creek Formation which is a geologic formation that dates back between 68 and 66 million years ago during the end of the Cretaceous Period.
The bones that they found belonged to four different dinosaur species – hip bones (or ilium) from a theropod the size of an ostrich; hips and legs from a duck-billed dinosaur; a skull and other bones from a Triceratops; and a pelvis, limbs, and a toe claw from a theropod that could have possibly been a rare ostrich-mimic Anzu or even a new species.
The dinosaur remains will be taken to the Burke Museum where the public will be able to view the paleontologists remove the fossils from the rock – except for the Triceratops as that specimen will remain at the formation for now as additional bones are still being found and the researchers are hoping their excavations involving that dinosaur will be finished by next summer.
The Triceratops was first located by a rancher who was flying his plane over the area (this has been referred to as the “Flyby Trike”). Researchers then went to the area and found rib bones, horn bones, occipital condyle bone (a ball-like bone at the back of the dinosaur’s skull that connects to the neck vertebrae and has been nicknamed the “trailer hitch”), lower jaw, teeth, and the creature’s frill. In fact, the researchers have stated that about 30% of the skull bones have been discovered so far and they’re hoping to find more. It is believed that this Triceratops lived less than 300,000 years before the dinosaur-killing asteroid struck the Earth.
Interestingly, the fossils were found in a way that seemed to suggest that the Triceratops probably died on a flood plain and that its bones became mixed together when a river system or flood moved them around (or perhaps by a scavenger such as a Tyrannosaurus rex).
Gregory Wilson Mantilla, who is a UW professor of biology and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Burke Museum, described the significance of the discovery, “Each fossil that we collect helps us sharpen our views of the last dinosaur-dominated ecosystems and the first mammal-dominated ecosystems,” adding, “With these, we can better understand the processes involved in the loss and origination of biodiversity and the fragility, collapse and assembly of ecosystems.”
In addition to the fossils, seed pods and amber were also found which could help experts in determining what types of plants were around during the time of the dinosaurs, what they ate, and what their environment was like.
Pictures from the dig can be seen here.