A group of undergraduate college students from Westminster College in Missouri were in the Badlands of South Dakota for a fossil collecting trip, and wound up digging up a 3,000-pound, seven-foot triceratops skull dating back 66-million-years-ago.
In 2019, during the students’ annual fossil collecting trip with their paleontology professor David Schmidt, park rangers asked the group if they could look at an object that was spotted several months earlier. The group immediately noticed that the find resembled the horn of a triceratops. But because they weren’t allowed to look into it any further without legal authorization, the group waited until the summer of 2020 to excavate the area.
Such was the excitement that three current students and four alumni joined Schmidt in June and July for the annual dig even though course credit could not be offered. They camped for two months and worked hard to unearth the dinosaur skull, which they named Shady after the town of Shadehill located nearby.
“As we continued to uncover more parts of the skull, I was in denial,” Schmitt, who was overseeing the group, told St. Louis Public Radio. “I was thinking, ‘This can’t be a skull. How lucky would I be? That probably only happens to a very tiny fraction of people on this planet. Like, I can’t be one of those.’”
The fossil was transported to Westminster’s campus, where it will be used for research by undergraduates.
More bones of the triceratops are still lying beneath the earth, but the professor and his students will head back next summer to excavate the rest.