(CNN) – It may have been an eternal battle in ancient Montana.
About 67 million years ago, two iconic dinosaurs, a Triceratops horridus and a Tyrannosaurus rex, died and were quickly buried side by side in a single grave. And they both have battle scars. It’s the kind of showdown scientists have speculated about for years, but it has only appeared in the “Jurassic Park” games, until now.
The impressively complete skeletons of these “dinosaurs in battle” will be displayed and studied at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in 2022, the museum announced Tuesday. The museum is located in downtown Raleigh.
The Triceratops fossil was first discovered in 2006 when it eroded from the sedimentary rock of the Hell Creek Formation. This rock formation, dating back 65.5 million years, got its name from Hell Creek near Jordan, Montana. The treasure trove of fossils from the late Cretaceous period spans parts of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
The remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex also slightly overlapped with those of the Triceratops. Both were extracted from the rock formation, plastered in plaster and stored safely until they could be studied.
They are some of the most complete dinosaur skeletons ever found. Furthermore, the researchers believe that the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton is the only 100% complete T. rex fossil.
Both skeletons are also articulated, which means that all the bones have been preserved in their correct order. It is rare to find an articulated fossil, and this discovery includes two.
An old cold case
While the fossils are still trapped in the sedimentary rock, what is seen tells an intriguing story.
So far, an analysis of the Triceratops fossil has revealed actual skin prints on its characteristic frill and hips. The tyrannosaurus teeth are embedded in its spine. But the Triceratops arms are not visible. Researchers are not sure if they are simply encased in the stone beneath its body or if they were looted by other dinosaurs before the Triceratops was buried.
They also want to know if the contents of your stomach were preserved. If so, they might know your last meal.
The Tyrannosaurus rex had most of its teeth broken; he also has a broken finger and his skull is split. The researchers want to find out if all of this damage occurred during a possible battle with the Triceratops, or if they were post-mortem injuries.
The Tyrannoraurus rex fossil also has a skin print on its foot, which researchers say is remarkably similar to that of a modern emu.
The museum is building a new laboratory, the SECU DinoLab, to house the fossils when they are exhibited in 2022. It will also be a hub for scientists studying fossils. The exhibition is expected to be open to the public for five years.
Some of the other questions the researchers want to answer about the fossils include determining whether the molecules are conserved in the skin prints and whether the tyrannosaurus fossil shows evidence of feathers. The scientists would also like to identify whether it was a teenage Tyrannosaurus rex and discover more details about the Triceratops’ steering wheel.
And of course they want to know how the dinosaurs died and if they were locked in a duel beforehand.
Because the fossils are still buried in sediment, their body contours and impressions of skin and soft tissues remain. These details are often lost when the fossils are completely excavated in the field.
“We have not studied this specimen yet; it is a scientific frontier. Preservation is phenomenal, and we plan to use all available technological innovations to reveal new information about the biology of T. rex and Triceratops. This fossil will forever change our view of the world’s two favorite dinosaurs, ”said Lindsay Zanno, chief of paleontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and associate research professor at North Carolina State University, in a statement.
“The way we’ve designed the entire experience, inviting the public to follow scientific discoveries in real time and participate in research, will set a new standard for museums.”
The popular dinosaur pair was donated to the museum by the Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on Tuesday. The nonprofit organization acquired the fossils using private funds provided by the support of a large number of foundations.
“It is an immeasurable honor to welcome these specimens as they establish permanent residence here at the Museum,” said Jason Barron, president of the Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. «The duel of dinosaurs is a singular find; we are incredibly grateful to our fans for making this a reality and allowing our visitors, both in person and virtual, to experience this journey with us.
The exhibit will also promote the museum’s paleontology research and education programs.
“The Museum is delighted to have the unique opportunity to host and research one of the most important paleontological discoveries of our time,” said Eric Dorfman, director and CEO of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in a statement. “Not only can we uncover unknown details of the anatomy and behavior of these animals, but our new dedicated facilities and educational programs will allow us to interact with the public locally, throughout North Carolina and around the world.”
The SECU DinoLab will provide visitors the opportunity to observe researchers as they study the fossils and also speak with the paleontology team.
And for those at home, the lab will share research updates and live videos to learn more about their findings in real time.