In the summer of 2013, a team of archaeologists from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands were excavating in Wyoming, searching for a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Instead, they made a remarkable discovery – not one, but several Triceratops fossils.

This famous three-horned dinosaur with the large frill around its neck was found, not just once, but repeatedly. The excavation project, which was supposed to be a short venture, ended up lasting more than a decade.

Over the course of the dig, the team unearthed an astounding 1,200 bone fragments and pieces belonging to at least five individual Triceratops. A dedicated team of professional paleontologists and volunteer technicians spent years carefully extracting these fossils from the quarry.

Researchers were then brought in to study the findings and unravel the story behind this Triceratops herd. Now, after years of meticulous analysis, the lead researcher, paleontologist Jimmy de Rooij, is set to receive his doctoral degree from the University of Utrecht this March.

De Rooij describes the fossil material as being of “very high quality”, allowing the team to make remarkable discoveries. For instance, they were able to demonstrate that these Triceratops grew at an exceptionally slow pace. The layout of the bone bed also provided clues, suggesting the five dinosaurs died together, perhaps drowning in a marshy environment.

Interestingly, no other species’ remains were found mixed in, indicating this was a Triceratops-only event. Further analysis of the hundreds of Triceratops teeth revealed these animals led a migratory lifestyle, traveling together as a group.

This, of course, leads to all sorts of new questions, says De Rooij. Just how complex was the social behavior of this dinosaur species? De Rooij’s supervisor, Professor Anne Schulp of Naturalis and the University of Utrecht, is thrilled with the outcomes of this long-running project.

The Netherlands’ national natural history museum, Naturalis, now houses the world’s largest Triceratops fossil collection, and the University of Utrecht can boast the first Dutch doctorate on the topic.

The research has not only resulted in scholarly publications but also an upcoming exhibit. Starting in October, the five Triceratops will be displayed at Naturalis, showcasing how these magnificent creatures lived and died together some 67 million years ago.


Naturalis Biodiversity Center

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