It’s not often you get to a see a dinosaur catch a ride with a helicopter. The full skeletal remains of a young Pentaceratops have been airlifted by the New Mexico National Guard in New Mexico.
Paleontologists from the New Mexico Museum of National History and Science found the fossil in the badlands of Bisti Wilderness in northwestern New Mexico in 2011. Bound by bureaucracy and unforgiving terrain, it has taken four years to plan the skeleton’s escape. Last Thursday, a Blackhawk helicopter from the U.S. National Guard lifted the fossil off the New Mexico dust and onto a cargo truck where it will be delivered to the museum in Albuquerque.
The exhibition also airlifted the skull of an adult Pentaceratops that was found approximately 16 kilometers (10 miles) away. They encased the fossils in hundreds of pounds of plaster for protection before they were lifted.
Pentaceratops lived in North America around 70 million years ago and was about six meters (twenty feet) long. Fewer than 10 adult Pentaceratops skulls have been found so far, however this is the first baby skeleton complete with its skull ever to be found.
Artist's impression of an adult Pentaceratops. Image Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons
“There’s a lot of interesting questions,” museum curator Spencer Lucas said to the Associated Press. “We know what the adult skull of a Pentaceratops looks like, but we’ve never seen a juvenile skull. So it will be interesting to see what the differences are in shape, the size of the horns and other kinds of features.”
It is hoped that the fossils can go on display at some point in the future. However, before that, there will be months of work at the museum to remove the plaster from the fossils and investigate them further.
Paleontologists believe the remains of the baby Pentaceratops were swept downstream by a river as some of the skeleton has fallen apart. However, they will continue their investigation into the last days of this dinosaur back at the museum.
Lucas added, “Until we clean it up and really see how the bones are arranged and we look for things like tooth marks on the bone or something like that, we won’t answer those questions. But these are things we’re interested in.”