The big skull on campus

By Sean Willett

The University of Calgary might be getting a new tenant — one that is over 70 million years old.

Last October, U of C professor Darla Zelenitsky and her research assistant discovered the fossilized skull of a Pachyrhinosaurus inside the town limits of Drumheller. A relative of other frilled dinosaurs — like Triceratops and Centrosaurus — Pachyrhinosaurus is distinguished by a large, bumpy surface on its nose. This surface, known as a boss, was one of the only parts of the dinosaur that was exposed when the skull was found.

The specimen, which is around the size of an office desk, may be the largest Pachyrhinosaurus ever discovered.

“You don’t know for sure until you go through the collections, but from what I can tell from the literature, the boss on this specimen is 20 per cent larger than the boss of the next largest individual,” Zelenitsky said. “It’s massive.”

The skull took over 10 days to excavate from the surrounding rock. Several months were needed to prepare the top portion of the skull, but more work needs to be done before it can be displayed at the U of C.

“It has to be flipped over and prepared in the bottom so it may not be done for another two years,” Zelenitsky said. “After that it will hopefully go on display, but that is a long way down the road.”

Zelenitsky and her research team will also be studying the skull to learn more about the development and distribution of Pachyrhinosaurus. So far, three species of Pachyrhinosaurus have been named: P. perotorum, P. canadensis and P. lakustai, the latter of which was only named in 2012.

“The first thing that will be done with the skull is to try to determine if it is a new species,” Zelenitsky said. “If it’s not, then it is most likely a P. canadensis.”

Only one other Pachyrhinosaurus skull has been discovered from the Drumheller region. Currently, it’s on display in the Badlands Historical Centre.

“The other skull looks a little different from this one,” Zelenitsky said. “But any differences might just be due to the age of the new individual, since it is just so big.”

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