Although the purpose of the T. rex expedition to America was to excavate a Tyrannosaurus rex, we instead made another remarkable find of three and possibly four Triceratops. “You normally never find more than one Triceratops in any one place,” explained palaeontologist Anne Schulp of Naturalis. “But here we have – and these examples are also of different ages. A truly exciting find.”
Triceratops, a creature that looks something like an overgrown rhinoceros, is one of the best-known of all dinosaurs. Even so, only in the past few years have two relatively complete skeletons of the creature been found. The impressive herbivores were a regular item on the menu of Tyrannosaurus rex, which would eat them skin and bones, leaving behind only the skull, of which some hundred have been found. The skeletons often on display are for the most part assembled from bones from numerous different finds, even supplemented with ribs and legs from the Hadrosaurus, a completely different dinosaur. The oldest of the animals is probably the most complete example of this three-horn herbivore ever found.
This discovery will not only teach us a great deal about the body of the Triceratops, but also about its development, since three animals of different ages have been found: two younger and one older example, and possibly even a fourth skeleton. The discovery of two young dinosaurs of different ages at this dig site is particularly remarkable, because juvenile skeletons are also very scarce. The find could also tell us much about the behaviour of Triceratops; the fact that these animals were found together could indicate that they lived and indeed died together. The group may even have been a family.
We intend to continue excavating a second T. rex find, in July. Of this creature, part of the skull, a lower jaw, several teeth, vertebrae and ribs have already been extracted. We know that there are other bones of this particular T. rex in the soil, and we expect to be able to find more material. You will of course be able to closely follow this expedition, too. This second find means that we still have a realistic chance of installing this carnivorous dinosaur in the Dinosaur Gallery of the new Naturalis museum, due to open in 2017.