Harrison Duran, a biology student from the University of California, made history when he recently unearthed a 65-million-year-old partial Triceratops skull.
“I can’t quite express my excitement in that moment when we uncovered the skull,” Duran said in a news release from the school on Wednesday. “I’ve been obsessed with dinosaurs since I was a kid, so it was a pretty big deal.”
The incredible discovery was found in the badlands of North Dakota, which is considered to be a honey hole for digging up fossils. Part of the Hell Creek Foundation, fossils in this particular area date back to the late Cretaceous period, which was between 65 million and 60 million years ago, having originally been discovered by paleontologist Barnum Brown.
The rock formation in which these fossils are found spans across four different states including Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
Duran had set out on a two-week dig accompanied by Michael Kjelland, an experienced excavator and professor at Mayville State University in North Dakota.
“I have been going out to the badlands for years off and on, but to this particular site it was the first time,” Kjelland told CNN. Last year, he found another Triceratops skull around the same area that is currently being excavated.
After 4 days of digging, the Triceratops skull was found upside down with the base of its left horn partially exposed, surrounded by other plant fossils from the Cretaceous era:
“It is wonderful that we found fossilized wood and tree leaves right around, and even under, the skull,” said Duran. “It gives us a more complete picture of the environment at the time.”
Both Duran and Michael Kjelland spent a full week excavating the fossil out of the ground.
To transport their discovery to the lab, the fossil was coated in foil and plaster, put in a box and wrapped in a memory foam mattress.
The hope is that they can display “Alice” – nicknamed after the landowner – at UC Merced to share it with the campus community.