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Dinosaurs The Mesozoic Mailbag

The Dueling Dinosaurs are Finally Free!

In 2006, two dinosaurs were discovered locked in combat. They seemed destined to be forever hidden by commercial greed, until now.

For over 65 million years, two dinosaurs – a Triceratops and a juvenile Tyrannosaurus – have been locked in combat. How exactly they got there remains unclear, but their proximity to one another earned them a mystic reputation as the “Dueling Dinosaurs”. They are virtually unchanged since their time of death, leading paleo-geeks like me to speculate as to what they could reveal. Will they demonstrate a clear predator-prey relationship between Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops? Will the juvenile Rex prove to be a new species entirely? All these questions and more may soon be answered.

On November 17th, it was announced that the dueling dinosaurs would be donated to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The fossil will headline a brand-new paleontological exhibit for the museum opening sometime in 2022. Their donation to a public museum is a sigh of relief for anxious paleontologists, who only a few short weeks ago watched one of the most complete specimens of Tyrannosaurus vanish into private ownership. At the NCMNS, the scientific information that the dueling dinosaurs can reveal will now be exposed in its entirety.

The history of the dueling dinosaurs can best be described as turbulent. After its initial discovery in 2006, the team who made the discovery tried to put it up for auction. After failing to reach the bidding price, the dueling dinosaurs were shelved and put into purgatory as a litany of lawsuits emerged for their ownership. At first the fossils were ruled in favour of the owners of the property in 2016; then it flipped to the owners of the land’s mineral rights in 2018, which gave paleontologists quite the scare. If fossils were declared as minerals, then every fossil sale made could be brought into question and more importantly, getting the authorization to excavate fossils would be far more challenging. Fortunately, the Montana Supreme Court overturned this decision in early 2020, thus allowing the fossils to be sold and for paleontological excavations to continue in the United States with ease.

The revelation I am most looking forward to is the identity of the Tyrannosaurid. For decades the paleontological community has debated as to whether or not Nanotyrannus, a mid-sized tyrannosaurid from the late cretaceous, was in actuality Tyrannosaurus. Since the known specimens of Nanotyrannus all represent immature individuals, the prevailing theory is that Nanotyrannus was a juvenile Tyrannosaurus. Others point to the noticeable physical differences between the two and believe that these differences are enough to make Nanotyrannus its own taxon. Apparently, the dueling dinosaurs settles this debate once and for all (my hunch in favor of Nanotyrannus) and as such I am following its developments with great interest.

If the dueling dinosaurs are as amazing as the paleontological community has hyped them up to be, then 2022 should be a very fun year indeed.

Works Cited:

I do not take credit for any images found in this article.

Header image of the Tyrannosaurid found here

The Dueling Dinosaurs courtesy of Seth Weinig, found here

Nanotyrannus courtesy of National Geographic, found here

  1. Greshko, M. “’Dueling Dinosaurs’ Fossil, Hidden from Science for 14 Years, Could Finally Reveal Its Secrets.” National Geographic, 17 Nov. 2020, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/11/dueling-dinosaurs-fossil-finally-set-to-reveal-secrets/.

2 replies on “The Dueling Dinosaurs are Finally Free!”

[…] When high profile fossils are auctioned, there are typically two possible outcomes. Ideally, they are sold to an academic institution where they can be formally studied and displayed to the public. This outcome came to fruition with the “Dueling Dinosaurs”, a spectacular fossil of a Triceratops and a juvenile Tyrannosaurus locked in mortal combat. For over a decade the Dueling Dinosaurs have been subject to a variety of legal controversies stemming from their ownership rights. However, they were finally sold to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in 2020, thereby allowing paleontologists to get a true glimpse at this potentially ground-breaking specimen (3) (for more about the Dueling Dinosaurs, check out: The Dueling Dinosaurs are Finally Free!). […]

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