How You Can Watch Paleontologists Clean A Triceratops Skull

Sep 19, 2019

Visitors to the Cincinnati Museum Center can observe as paleontologists remove a triceratops skull from dirt and rock. The cleaning process will take months or even years, and visitors can watch through a glass window overlooking the paleontology lab.

A volunteer found the skull in Montana in 2013, says Glenn Storrs, Ph.D., associate vice president for science and research. It was excavated two years later.

"It's been here waiting to be opened, of course, we've had other things to do at Union Terminal with all the restoration going on and lab has only just this year been fully operational because of the restoration," Storrs says. "Outside the lab you can see a video of some of that excavation work. The fossil that's highlighted in that video is this specimen."

The triceratops skull in its wrapping of plaster, burlap and toilet paper as it was packaged for travel from Montana to Cincinnati.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

The fossil dates to the late Cretaceous period, Storrs estimates.

Not much is yet known about this particular triceratops. One of its horns is broken off, though the reason isn't known. Part of its top beak is missing.

"Sometimes people think of these as the cows of the Cretaceous," Storrs says. "They would have been browsing more than grazing, but traveling around and eating, likely in groups. How this particular one met its end, we don't know. It was only the skull (that was found) and that's kind of typical for triceratops because it's this giant skull and much of the rest of the skeleton can be washed away or carried away."

Children watch the skull excavation from the viewing area outside the Cincinnati Museum Center's Paleontology Lab.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

About Triceratops

Triceratops was a three-horned herbivore that lived in North America in the late Cretaceous period, roughly 66 to 68 million years ago. It was a contemporary of tyrannosaurus, Storrs says.

The animal had a large head plate which served as armor and possibly as a way to attract a mate. It would have been about 30 feet long, 10 feet tall, and weigh four to six tons, according to National Geographic.