Seven years ago, a recognized dinosaur expert who works at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History discovered the skull of a new species of horned dinosaur.
Starting this week, the museum becomes the first anywhere to display a detailed resin-fiberglass cast of the skull of the 20-foot, 2,000-pound Albertaceratops nesmoi that roamed southern Alberta, Canada, nearly 80 million years ago.
On display through June 29, the 48- by 48-inch replica of the skull was discovered, documented, and named by Michael J. Ryan, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
The cast of the skull is embedded in a likeness of the shale rock in which the actual skull was found by Ryan in the summer of 2001, while he studied for a doctorate degree at the University of Calgary. The original skull is on permanent display at Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.
|SEE THE SKULL CAST
Where: Cleveland Museum of Natural History, 1 Wade Oval Drive, University Circle, Cleveland
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday; Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $9 adults, $7 for ages 7 to 18, $7 for college students with a valid ID and for senior citizens; $6 for wheelchair; $6 for ages 3 to 6, and free for those 2 and younger
Special admission prices: $5 after 5 p.m. Wednesday for all ages, and free after 3 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday for 12 and younger
More information: Call (800) 317-9155 or visit www.cmnh.org.
A team from the Alberta museum created the one-piece cast of the skull, which is all that has been found, so far, of the plant-eating dinosaur that lived during the late Cretaceous period nearly 78 million years ago. Distinguished by long brow horns attached to a frill, it resembled the better-known Triceratops, which didn’t appear until roughly 10 million years later.
Ryan discovered the original skull in shale atop a large outcropping of rocks.
“We had to walk a mile or two to get there, and then we climbed up a hill a couple hundred feet, dragging all our gear up. We used a lot of rope and manpower to pull it (the shale) back down.”
The resin-fiberglass cast is an attempt to replicate as closely as possible “what that rock looked like,” Ryan said.
Why wasn’t the Cleveland museum able to display the original skull, particularly since Ryan was the one who found it and named it?
“There was one skull found, and Alberta was not going to let that specimen out of their possession,” he explained. “It was in no condition to be displayed. It was far too fragile.”
The resin-fiberglass replica, accurate to the original to less than .5 percent, does have one major advantage over the original.
“This is a touchable display,” said Ryan. “You’d never be able to run your hand over the real skull to see what it feels like.”
Museums learned the hard way the folly of letting actual fossils be touched by human hands.
“One of the most famous cases involved the (former) County Museum in Pittsburgh, which was one of the first to ever find an example of a T-Rex,” Ryan said of the Tyrannosaurus rex bones first displayed by the Pittsburgh museum in the 1940s. “It wasn’t treated or housed as well as it should have been.”
Over the course of decades, thousands of visitors were permitted to put their hands on portions of the dinosaur.
“The bones and teeth of the lower jaw were worn down by all that handling,” Ryan said. “It was irrevocably damaged.”
Ryan isn’t stopping with finding the skull of Albertaceratops nesmoi.
“I go back every summer to that area. It’s my No. 1 priority to find the rest of the body.”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or email@example.com.