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A museum artist’s version of the dueling dinosaurs, which is being used as the promotional image for the North Carolina museum exhibit.                   Source: Matt Zeher / North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Killer Dueling Dinosaurs Fuel Major Museum Project


American history is peppered with famous duels. On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton, the former secretary of the treasury and leading federalist, squared up with Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson´s vice president. On the other end of the cultural scale the movie “ Deliverance” made “ Dueling Banjos a smash hit in ’72 AD. However, the incontestable, heavyweight champion of all-American duels occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period, almost 67 million years ago. Dueling dinosaurs are in the news and for good reason. This is also the name of the revolutionary new museum exhibit scheduled at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. By understanding the fossilized dueling dinosaurs, researchers are breaking new territory that includes live streaming of research work and input from the public.

The Dueling Dinosaurs Mystery Surfaces In Montana

In 2006 AD, at the Hell Creek formation near Jordan, Montana, USA, the fossilized remains of a massive Triceratops horridus was discovered with a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex. The two creatures had died together in a single grave and became fused within a 13,600-kilogram (30,000-lb) sedimentary rock chunk. This double fossil is known to science as the “dueling dinosaurs.” This fusion of two dinosaurs represents one of the most complete dinosaur skeleton finds ever found. It is also one of the greatest mysteries because we don’t really know why these two dinosaurs were buried together. However, thanks to modern science, that situation is about to change.

The researchers say the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton “is the only 100% complete T. rex fossil” ever discovered and that they have found skin impressions on the Triceratops. The Tyrannosaur´s teeth were found embedded in the Triceratops’ spine. Studies of the Tyrannosaurus rex fossil subsequently discovered that its skull and a finger were broken, and that most of its teeth were smashed. However, it is not currently known if the smashed teeth pieces belong to this T-Rex or another T-Rex.

Planning To Look Back 70 Million Years

A 12-year-old found the remarkable 67 million-year-old dinosaur fossil while hiking with his dad. The new study will scan the creatures’ stomachs to try and identify what their last meals were. Using the latest techniques, researchers will also be able to determine which injuries were caused prior to the battle, and whether or not scavengers ravaged the dead carcasses before they were buried. Samples will also be gathered from the dinosaurs’ skin. If any DNA has been preserved, the researchers plan to genetically rebirth both dinosaurs on a remote island in the Pacific. I just had to throw in that last bit, I am sorry. Just, joking! Let’s get back to the facts.

Speaking with Live Science, Lindsay Zanno, head of paleontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences said the phenomenally well-preserved specimen is “a scientific frontier.” The researcher added that the entire museum experience will be interactive and that the public will be invited to follow the scientific discoveries in real time and to participate in the research, which she says sets a new standard for museum exhibits.

The SECU DinoLab in downtown Raleigh will provide visitors with the chance to observe the researchers as they study the fossils and also talk with the paleontology team. Jason Barron, chair of the Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, said the planned exhibit will also further the museum's paleontology education and research programs.

Returning to the event of 67 million years ago. It is hoped that the new study will reveal the circumstances leading up to the two dueling dinosaurs being buried together. Were the beasts fighting when a natural catastrophe occurred that encased them in earth together, perhaps a landslide or a flood? The other big question is about the T-Rex teeth found embedded in the Triceratops' spine: are these the teeth of the other dueling dinosaur or did they come from an earlier conflict?

This image shows teeth missing from the T-Rex’s killer jaws. (Matt Zeher / North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences)

This image shows teeth missing from the T-Rex’s killer jaws. (Matt Zeher / North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences)

Calling On All U.S. Students To Participate In The Research

In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine Jack Horner, a paleontologist and technical advisor for the “Jurassic Park” movies (for real this time) admits that he had originally thought the dueling dinosaurs were “scientifically useless.” However, learning that Dr Zanno had access to the Montana excavation site, which provides “critical context,” Horner told Live Science he’s changed his mind: “Now it is scientifically worth something.”

The museum announced on Tuesday (November 17, 2020 AD) that construction for the DinoLab will begin in 2021. The new SECU DinoLab, will house the fossils when they go on display in 2022 for a five-year period. Museum visitors will be able to talk with the scientific researchers and live internet streams will show the research to the world.

The project not only aims to inform museum visitors about the earth´s ancient origins. A cool $1 million (843,000 Euro) donation from the Bank of America Foundation is funding a parallel project called “Cretaceous Creatures.” Aiming to better understand the microfossils found at the “dueling dinosaur” dig site in the Hell Creek formation, this aspect of the research will invite high-school students to research sediment samples, which will be added to the researchers’ dino database.

Top image: A museum artist’s version of the dueling dinosaurs, which is being used as the promotional image for the North Carolina museum exhibit.                   Source: Matt Zeher / North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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