Incredible "Dueling Dinosaurs" to go on public display for the first time
A tyrannosaur and a triceratops, locked in combat for 67 million years, will finally be put on public display for the very first time. Known as the Dueling Dinosaurs, the incredible fossil captures predator and prey preserved together, seemingly mid-battle, and it’s so complete there’s even skin impressions.
It’s not often you find two skeletons fossilized together, let alone a pair of the most famous dinosaur species to have ever lived. The two animals appear to have died at the same time and were quickly buried in a single event, leaving them forever entangled, with the triceratops’ hind leg and tail resting on top of the tyrannosaur’s tail.
That said, it remains up for debate whether or not they were actually “dueling” at the time of death. At a glance it sure looks like it – presumably you couldn’t put two creatures that powerful and antagonistic that close together without some sort of standoff ensuing – and there is some evidence for interaction.
There are two stray T-rex teeth embedded in the triceratops’ body, one in the throat and one near the hip. The tyrannosaur’s skull is cracked, which some paleontologists theorize could have come from a defensive kick by its hefty prey. And the predator has several broken teeth, indicating a scuffle – or perhaps they’re just scars from a lifetime of having to fight other dinosaurs for every meal.
A battle sure makes an exciting story for a museum plaque, but of course there’s no way of knowing what really happened. Dinosaurs have been found fossilized in groups before – perhaps these two were both caught up in a landslide or flash flood? Either way, the Dueling Dinosaurs moniker is far too catchy to be ditched now.
That’s not the only debate surrounding the fossils though – it’s hard to be certain exactly which species the two dinosaurs are. All that’s clear is that one is a theropod, a two-legged predator related to the (in)famous Tyrannosaurus rex, and the other is a ceratopsian, a crested and beaked herbivore related to triceratops.
The Dueling Dinosaurs theropod is much smaller than celebrity T-rex skeletons like Scotty and Stan, leading some experts in the past to suggest it’s a new species of pygmy tyrannosaur dubbed Nanotyrannus. However, it’s now generally accepted that this specimen is most likely an adolescent T-rex – and Nanotyrannus probably didn’t exist at all.
Likewise, the ceratopsian was thought to have some strange features that distinguished it from the classic triceratops, but is now largely believed to have been just that all along.
Whatever they are, both specimens are the most complete examples of their kind. The theropod, in particular, is thought to be the only T-rex skeleton ever found that’s 100 percent complete. In fact, their sandstone tomb has done an incredible job of preserving not just bones, but patches of skin impressions, and potentially internal organs and stomach contents.
All of this would make the Dueling Dinosaurs a star attraction at any museum, and now they’re finally being unveiled to the public for the first time ever. The fossils were recently bought at auction by the nonprofit organization Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, who then gifted it to their namesake museum.
This all comes at the tail end of a dull, drawn-out duel of a different kind – a legal battle over ownership. The fossils were first found on a ranch in Montana in 2006, but they sat gathering dust in warehouses for years while several families argued in court over who legally owned them.
Now they’ve finally found a home in a public museum where they belong. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences will make the Dueling Dinosaurs the centerpiece of its new expanded fossil wing, which will also feature the SECU DinoLab, where visitors will be able to watch paleontologists work.
“We have not yet studied this specimen; it is a scientific frontier,” says Dr. Lindsay Zanno, head of paleontology at the museum. “The preservation is phenomenal, and we plan to use every technological innovation available to reveal new information on the biology of T. rex and Triceratops. This fossil will forever change our view of the world’s two favorite dinosaurs.”
Construction on the new wing is set to begin in 2021, with the doors opening to the public in 2022.