College Student Finds a 65-Million-Year-Old Triceratops Skull During Paleontology Dig in North Dakota

Harrison Duran with a partial Triceratops skull.
Harrison Duran with a partial Triceratops skull.
Fossil Excavators

Paleontology is often a game of luck, and an undergraduate student at the University of California, Merced recently hit the jackpot. As CBS News reports, Harrison Duran, a fifth-year biology student with an emphasis in ecology and evolutionary biology, was on a dig in the Badlands of North Dakota when he struck upon the partial skull of a 65-million-year-old Triceratops fossil.

Duran trekked out to the Badlands with "bone digger" and Mayville State University biology professor Michael Kjelland expecting to find plant fossils on their two-week dig. Among the fossilized wood and leaves, they discovered something else: the remains of a Triceratops, one of the most iconic dinosaurs of all time.

Duran, whose passion for dinosaurs predates his academic career, was ecstatic. “I can’t quite express my excitement in that moment when we uncovered the skull,” he told UC Merced. “I’ve been obsessed with dinosaurs since I was a kid, so it was a pretty big deal.”

The specimen was named Alice in honor of the owner of the land where it was found. After a week-long excavation, the partial skull was covered in foil and plaster and transported by truck to Kjelland's lab. Kjelland noted that such fossils are susceptible to theft (Triceratops skulls can be worth a quarter-million dollars), but he hopes to eventually make Alice viewable to the public. His ideal scenario would be touring the skull around various locations, but the fossil must be further analyzed and prepared for display before that can happen.

The Dakotas are famous for their dinosaur fossils. Triceratops are especially prevalent there—in South Dakota, the species is the official state fossil.

Michael Kjelland with Triceratops skull treated with foil and plaster.
Michael Kjelland with Triceratops skull treated with foil and plaster.
Fossil Excavators

[h/t CBS News]

How the T. Rex at the American Museum of Natural History Became an Icon

J.M. Luijt, Wikimedia Commons //  CC BY-SA 2.5 nl
J.M. Luijt, Wikimedia Commons //  CC BY-SA 2.5 nl

When asked to think of a Tyrannosaurus rex, you may picture the dinosaur from the original King Kong (1933), the famous vintage illustration by Charles Knight, or perhaps the sinister fossil gracing the poster for Jurassic Park (1993). Each of these pop culture depictions of T. Rex was inspired by a single specimen: A skeleton on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City dubbed AMNH 5027.

In the video below, the AMNH explains how their fossil became the most iconic T. Rex—and therefore the most iconic dinosaur—in history. From 1915 to about 1940, it was the only the mounted T. Rex skeleton on display to the public. That means that most movies created in the early 20th century featuring a T. Rex—including The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918), King Kong, and Fantasia (1940)—were either directly or indirectly inspired by the museum's specimen. AMNH 5027 was incorrectly displayed standing upright with its tail on the ground for decades, which is why so many early depictions of the dinosaur in pop culture show it with the same posture.

The fossil's influence on the world isn't limited to early 20th century cinema. When brainstorming ideas for Jurassic Park's book cover, designer Chip Kidd went to the American Museum of Natural History for inspiration. He used AMNH 5027 as the model for one of the most iconic book jackets ever made. The design was repurposed in the posters for Jurassic Park the movie, and the rex's silhouette has since appeared on countless toys, T-shirts, and other merchandise.

The image has become synonymous with the species, but there's one small detail that's unique to AMNH 5027. The dinosaur in the Jurassic Park artwork has a small bump on the inside of its skull. This bump formed when a bone in the original specimen got pushed out of place during fossilization, and today it's a distinct feature that makes its profile instantly recognizable.

To learn more about the huge impact AMNH 5027 has had in the last century or so of its 65 million years on Earth, check out the video below.

A Powerful Storm Dislodged a Cargo Ship That’s Been Stuck on Niagara Falls for 101 Years

Niagara Parks, YouTube
Niagara Parks, YouTube

It was a dark and stormy night at Niagara Falls this past Halloween—so stormy, in fact, that a cargo ship was dislodged from where it had been stuck for 101 years.

On August 6, 1918, the iron scow—a flat-bottomed cargo vessel—got detached from its tugboat and began a steady, terrifying drift toward the edge of Horseshoe Falls. According to Ontario's Niagara Parks Commission, the two crewmen aboard, Gustav Lofberg and James Harris, opened the dumping doors, flooding the bottom compartments with enough water to slow the ship.

The scow soon ran into some rocks, saving the men from certain death but simultaneously stranding them in the middle of the perilous upper rapids. During the ensuing rescue mission, a breeches buoy—a sling attached to a pulley—was fastened to ropes, which a cannon shot out to the scow.

Progress came to a grinding halt when the ropes got twisted, and Ontario riverman and World War I veteran William “Red” Hill Sr. volunteered to swim out to the buoy and untangle the lines. He succeeded on his second attempt, and the two men were pulled to safety by the following morning.

The scow, on the other hand, spent the next century lodged among the rocks. According to USA Today, the Halloween storm was so severe that the ship escaped its craggy prison and sped downriver. It ran aground again just 150 feet from its original location.

Niagara Parks posted a video of the scow on Twitter on Friday, explaining that the badly deteriorated scow is now flipped on its side.

“It could be stuck there for days, or it could be stuck there for years,” Jim Hill, the Niagara Parks Commission’s senior manager of heritage, says in the video. “It’s anyone’s guess.”

The story of the iron scow might not be the only thing you didn’t know about Niagara Falls; dive into 11 more fascinating facts here.

[h/t USA Today]

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