University of California Merced

College Student Finds 65 Million-Year-Old Triceratops Skull

A University of California Merced student already has a story of a lifetime after finding a 65-million-year-old triceratops skull while on a dig in North Dakota. Harrison Duran, a fifth-year biology student, was on a two-week dig with experienced excavator and Mayville State University professor Michael Kjelland when he made the discovery.

The pair, known by locals as "bone diggers," had planned to explore an area at Hell Creek Formation, which is known as a dinosaur fossil site.

photobucket | MikeKjelland

Kjelland had found a triceratops skull of his own a year earlier, but for this dig, they had only expected to find plant fossils.

"You never know what's going to happen," Kjelland said in a university press release.

Digging certainly paid off as Duran made a discovery of his own just four days into the trip.

University of California Merced

"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."

Mind you, Kjelland and Duran also found some plant fossils, which turned out to be important as well.

University of California Merced

"It is wonderful that we found fossilized wood and tree leaves right around, and even under, the skull," Duran said. "It gives us a more complete picture of the environment at the time."

The pair named the skull Alice the Triceratops as a tribute to the land's owner.

It took an entire week to fully excavate Alice, and the bones then had to be stabilized with a special glue and coated in foil and plaster before being packaged in a memory foam mattress and loaded up for transport.

Taking the skull back to Kjelland's lab required some subterfuge along the way.

Fossil Excavators

"There have been people in the past who have stolen dinosaur bones," Kjelland explained, so it was kept at an undisclosed location before it reached the security of his lab, and he and Duran have kept the exact location of their dig under wraps as well.

However, the idea is to be able to share Alice around various educational institutions.

University of California Merced

"My vision is to have Alice rotate locations," Kjelland said. "The goal is to use this find as an educational opportunity, not just reserve Alice in a private collection somewhere so only a handful of people can see her."

And, no surprise, Duran would like to be able to share his find with his school

"It would be amazing for UC Merced to be able to display Alice on campus," he said. "It's such a rare opportunity to showcase something like this, and I'd like to share it with the campus community."

It sounds like this find is just the start for Duran and Kjelland.

Fossil Excavators

The pair have founded a non-profit together, Fossil Excavators, with a mission to discover, preserve, and educate others about fossils and conservation issues. They also have plans to further explore the areas they've made discoveries to see what else they can dig up.

Alice isn't the only triceratops to be found in 2019.

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Construction workers in Denver discovered a triceratops while working near a retirement community. That triceratops was found in a layer of rock that dates to 65 to 68 million years ago, paleontologists said, according to the Denver Post.

h/t: CNN