The city of Thornton was in the midst of construction for a new Public Safety Facility at 132nd Avenue and Quebec St., when they uncovered something none of them were expecting to find: a 66 million year old triceratops fossil.
“This dinosaur has been laying here for at least 66-million years. I’m over the moon right now about this dinosaur fossil,” said the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) Curator of Dinosaurs Joe Sertich.
Amongst the bones of the Triceratops found were its horns, jaw, frill, vertebrae and ribs. Scientists also came across a T. rex tooth, but it is believed to be the only part of a T. rex at the site.
Construction immediately stopped and the museum has been working at the site to see if other remains are present. Sertich said the discovery is one of the most complete skulls DMNS has now.
“My heart was racing. I realized it was pretty important dinosaur find,” Sertich said.
Upon discovering the Triceratops’s remains the museum covered them in a mold so it could be brought to the museum. The next step will be for scientists to clean the remains and then the Triceratops fossil will be put on display. The process could take at least a year.
“It is incredible to have this find occur in our own backyard. We’ve found two-dozen horned dinosaurs-including several new species – in the past couple of years outside of Colorado. Some are the largest and most complete skeletons ever recovered. Finds like this help us to understand dinosaur evolution and behavior,” Sertich said.
Triceratops had two big horns over its eyes and a smaller nose horn. The dinosaur ate plants, weighed up to six tons and was 30 feet wide. National Geographic’s description of the animal said it was one of the last dinosaurs in the late Cretaceous period.
“This is what we as curators dream about- getting a call about a possible fossil and confirming it’s not just a dinosaur fossil, but a record-breaking one,” Sertich said.
The city of Thornton has been working around the clock to provide security at the fossil site. City of Thornton crews, museum employees and construction workers are the only ones allowed at the site.
Sertich said it is difficult to uncover dinosaurs in the Denver area because buildings and parking lots occupy the land. He added that fossils will often get plowed up and not recognized at construction sites. The museum also received a tusk likely from a mammoth found at Cherry Creek earlier this year.
“This is probably one of only three skulls of triceratops found along the Front Range area,” Sertich said.