College Student Finds 65-Million-Year-Old Triceratops Skull in North Dakota

Harrison Duran, a student at the University of California, Merced, was part of a fossil hunt in North Dakota in June that discovered a five-foot triceratops skull. (Photo Credit: Fossil Excavators)

This is one extra-curricular activity you want on your transcript. A California college student found a 65-million-year-old partial skull of a triceratops during a paleontology dig in North Dakota.

Harrison Duran, a biology student at the University of California, Merced, made the discovery in June at Hell Creek Formation, a series of rock formations that span parts of Montana and the Dakotas dating to the end of the Cretaceous Period about 66 million years ago.

“I can’t quite express my excitement in the moment when we uncovered the skull,” Duran, said in a statement released by his school Wednesday. “I’ve been obsessed with dinosaurs since I was a kid, so it was a pretty big deal.”

Duran was accompanied on the dig by Michael Kjelland, a biology professor at Mayville State University in North Dakota who just a year ago, had also found a triceratops skull in the area. Duran and Kjelland founded the nonprofit organization Fossil Excavators after bonding over their love for the prehistoric creatures.

The skull was found inverted with the base of its left horn partially exposed above the ground, among plant fossils from the Cretaceous period. Duran and Kjelland named the skull “Alice,” after the land owner.

According to the University of California, Merced, it took a full week to excavate Alice, whose fragile skull was meticulously stabilized with a specialized glue to solidify the fractured, mineralized bones, before an accelerant was applied to bond the structures.

Michael Kjelland poses with the skull after it has been treated with foil and plaster for protection. (Photo Credit: Fossil Excavators)

Alice was then coated in foil and plaster, wedged onto a makeshift box and lifted onto a truck. Wrapped in a memory foam mattress for protection, she was driven to an undisclosed location until transport to Kjelland’s lab.

Duran and Kjelland will be conducting future research in the coming months and preparing the fossil for public display.

“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.”

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