DescriptionA VIRTUALLY COMPLETE AND IMPORTANT TRICERATOPS SKELETON
Hell Creek formation, Harding County, South Dakota
This is a rare opportunity to acquire a classic iconic North American Triceratops skeleton complete with all necessary documentation and a skull to rival the largest found in most museums. This specimen is in remarkable condition and the utmost effort has been taken to preserve the scientific integrity of the specimen; preparation methodology, GPS coordinates, bone map, and other relevant data are available. The specimen is astonishing in its display and loomed over astounded onlookers while it was on display at The North American Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, Utah.
The History of Triceratops
When the first partial Triceratops skull (consisting of two brow horns attached to part of the skull) was discovered outside of Denver in 1887, famed paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh thought it was an unusual bison from the Pliocene and called it Bison alticornis. It took two more skull finds before Marsh realized it was a horned dinosaur; he gave it the name Triceratops, meaning "three-horned face".
Triceratops were a three-horned herbivorous dinosaur that lived during the late Maastrichtian; the last stage of the Cretaceous period, about 68 to 65 million years ago. Triceratops is often said to be analogous to a modern rhinoceros; having a four-legged tankard body with a defensive head. Triceratops' remains have only been found in the Western States of North America and are one of the last dinosaurs to appear before the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction, which killed off all dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
In recent studies it has been found that as Triceratops matured, its skull morphed and took on different shapes. Triceratops skulls are made of a metaplastic bone that lengthened, shortened, and changed shapes over time; this accounts for a lot of individuality amongst Triceratops skulls. Juveniles have been found with their horns pointing one direction but in adults the horns point in another direction. Triceratops are believed to be young adults of a larger ceratopsian dinosaur of the same era; the Torosaurus. Two thin sections of frill bones in Triceratops correspond to holes in the frills of Torosaurus, suggesting that the metaplastic bones thinned out to reduce the weight of the skull as a Triceratops got larger. Full grown Triceratops are estimated to have reached over 29 feet in length, over 9 feet in height, and weighed up to 12 tons. They also had skulls that could grow up to 7 feet long (or 8.5 feet for Torosaurs); the largest skull of any land animal ever known.
Although many species of Triceratops have been proposed over the years, there are currently two accepted species amongst paleontologists; Triceratops horridus and Triceratops prorsus. The two species are distinguished by very minor differences in their skulls: horridus has a larger skull with a small nose horn and brow horns pointing forward; prorsus has a smaller skull than horridus but has a much larger nose horn and brow horns pointing at an angle different than those of horridus. The two species are also found in different stratigraphic levels in the Hell Creek Formation, which suggests that they are two distinct species and not just sexual dimorphisms of the same species.
Triceratops has enjoyed much cultural publicity ever since its discovery. It is an iconic dinosaur that has appeared in movies ranging from black and white cinema to modern movies like "Jurassic Park." It has also been in cartoons, such as the children's classic "The Land before Time." Triceratops is also the official state fossil of South Dakota and the official state dinosaur of Wyoming.
The present specimen was discovered in 2004 in two parts: First, the fossil hunters came upon pieces of dinosaur bone eroding down a gully. Following these bone fragments, they eventually came upon large bones that would indicate the presence of a large Ceratopsian dinosaur. While this large mass of bones was being excavated, other members of the team followed another bone trail which led them to an amazingly well preserved skull 750 feet away from the original discovery. Over the course of months, the specimens were carefully excavated in large blocks; each specimen was covered in plaster jackets and removed from the field to the lab. It was only during preparation that they discovered the dinosaur was a Triceratops, and it happened to be a Triceratops with an incredibly complete skull. The bones and skull were carefully removed from their field jackets and prepared using hand tools. Broken bones were professionally repaired and restored while a few missing elements were cast from other Triceratops skeletons. A custom made mount was created to support the bones and the skull; innovative bracket mounts were crafted for each bone so that no bones had to be damaged in order to mount them. The bones were mounted in osteologically correct position; making it comparable to and possibly surpassing the accuracy of older mounts in museum displays. Though it is impossible to say whether or not the skull is original to the specimen, being discovered 750 feet apart, it is certainly possible that the two elements are associated for a number of reasons: first, the size of the skull is consistent with the proportional size dimensions of the skeleton, and second, the surrounding matrix (host rock) was identical in composition.
The completed skeleton is enormous; measuring 19 feet long from head to tail, 11 feet across, and towering 12 feet tall. The skull itself measures 7 feet long with 3 ½ foot long horns; placing it near the top of the size range for Triceratops skulls. The leg bones stand 10 feet tall from toes to the top of the scapula; dwarfing many other Triceratops skeletons. Given that the skull represents about 30% of a dinosaur's entire skeleton, the present specimen is about 75% original bone, with the right leg, pelvic region, several cervical vertebrae and a few tail vertebrae being cast reproductions.
The skull is the most remarkable part of this Triceratops specimen. The skull was incredibly complete as found, which is extremely rare for dinosaur fossils in general. The only restorations to the skull are the central portion of the frill, the front of the lower beak, the pre-dentary on the mandibles, several of the teeth, the tip of the left brow horn, and many of the epoccipitals around the edge of the frill. The skull of this Triceratops measures 7 feet long from the top of the frill to the front of the beak, which is the maximum size range of Triceratops skulls that have been found. The skull contains a couple of small spherical nodules that protrude from the bone; these are ironstone concretions that formed after fossilization, adding to the authentic appearance and integrity of the skull.
While there are a few mounted skeletons of Triceratops in museums and universities around the world, most are composited from more than one animal and few are of the size and completeness as the present specimen and none are available for private sale and ownership. A perfect piece for the esteemed collector or museum exhibit.
A bone map and preparation photos are available on request.
Condition report available upon request.
*Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.
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