SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Paleontologists with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science on Thursday planned to unveil the first baby Pentaceratops skull ever discovered.
Scientists already have cut open a giant plaster jacket that protected the skull as it was airlifted out of the desert badlands of northwestern New Mexico and trucked to the museum.
Now, technicians will begin the painstaking work of digging out the fossil from the rock in which it has been encased for some 70 million years.
The process will take many months, but the public will be able to watch from windows that offer a view into the museum’s preparation room.
A free public viewing was scheduled Thursday evening.
Museum curator Spencer Lucas said the find is significant and sure to provide new insight into the rhinoceros-like, plant-eating dinosaurs that roamed North America tens of millions of years ago.
Less than 10 adult Pentaceratops skulls have been unearthed over the past century, and this marks the first baby skull to ever be recovered, Lucas said.
“So here now we have the first glimpse at growth and the early stages of life of this dinosaur,” he said.
Experts say Pentaceratops was one of the largest, if not the largest horned dinosaur that ever lived. It could be up to 27 feet long and weigh 5 tons or more.
Paleontologists suspect Pentaceratops may have used its five horns for defense. Evidence also suggests the horns and the shield-like part of the skull could have been used to attract mates.
The remains of the young Pentaceratops appear to have been washed through a streambed, as some of the skeleton has fallen apart. But how the animal met its demise is up for investigation, scientists said.
Muddy conditions last week prevented the team from transporting the plaster jacket that contained the remainder of the baby’s skeleton. That will happen later.
The discovery was made in 2011 in the Bisti Wilderness by Amanda Cantrell, the museum’s geoscience collections manager. A few years of planning, permitting and excavation followed.
A crew of staff and volunteers had to pack in tons of tools, water, plaster and other materials to prepare the fossils for removal since the find was made within a federally protected wilderness area.