Having been off limits to science for more than a decade as part of a private collection, the world-famous “Dueling Dinosaurs” fossils are finally to become the subject of a huge paleontology project. As part of an acquisition by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the remains will become the focus of new and exciting research into the two dinosaurs, a Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops horridus, which were preserved in the throes of battle in one of the most unusual fossils ever discovered.
Both specimens are remarkably intact, having been locked in tan sandstone for more than 66 million years. Despite their great age, the fossils have remained entombed within sediment from the Montana hillside where they were first discovered, meaning they are still locked in their original position. Even more excitingly, the sediment has preserved unusual features rarely seen in fossils, including skin impressions, the outlines of their bodies as they were with skin and muscle intact, and possibly even evidence of the fight in the form of T. rex teeth embedded in the Triceratops.
Both dinosaurs are predicted to be a treasure trove of paleontological information, and the T. rex is of particular significance as it is the only 100 percent intact Tyrannosaurus specimen discovered to date. Their sale to the museum will give paleontologists a much-anticipated opportunity to get up close and personal with these rare and exciting remains, potentially giving rise to new discoveries about two of the Cretaceous’s most iconic species.
The remarkable fossils will form the centerpiece of a new exhibition set to launch in 2022 at the North Carolina museum, where they have been stored since 2017. The exhibition will be unique in inviting the public to follow the scientific discoveries in real-time as they move through labs where research is unfolding before their eyes.
“The experience will include the construction of new labs and exhibit spaces allowing the public to get up close and personal with the dinosaur specimens in a way never before imaginable,” said Dr Lindsay Zanno, head paleontologist on the project, in an email to IFLScience. “We have also created a public science (citizen science) project that will give students and teachers the opportunity to make their own unique discoveries as real members of our scientific team. Because this specimen offers the opportunity to address so many scientific questions about the biology of these dinosaurs it is a perfect segue to get the public excited about science and increase the transparency of and trust in the scientific process.”
Construction of the new labs is set to begin in 2021 and will be located on the ground floor of the innovative Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. It’s being created with education for the public in mind, as the high-tech exhibit spaces will be open for museum visitors to explore the tools and techniques used by real paleontologists (no auto-erotica/animatronics here). Video streams and research updates shared online will also ensure that dinosaur fanatics from all over the globe can follow along live as the research team share their Dueling Dinosaurs discoveries.
“We don't yet know what secrets are hidden in these specimens,” said Zanno. “They remain in their field jackets, entombed in the sediment they were buried in. We can already see evidence of body halos, never before seen skin impressions, and we have high hopes of learning new information about the biology and ecology of the world’s most famous dinosaurs.”