Pachyrhinosaur skull found in Drumheller may be largest specimen ever discovered

Paleontologists from the University of Calgary have revealed a remarkable discovery made in the badlands of southern Alberta — a massive fossil dinosaur skull that may be the largest specimen of its kind ever found.

This dinosaur, known as the pachyrhinosaur (or "thick-nosed lizard"), lived around 70 million years ago, and fossils remains of this genus have been found from southern Alberta all the way north into Alaska. Based on past finds, scientists have figured out that these plant-eating animals grew to over six metres in length and could weigh up to four tons. This latest discovery was made back in October of last year, on what was a fairly routine sweep by researchers near the town of Drumheller, Alberta. The fossil hunters spied what looked to be a small, bumpy rock sticking out of the ground, but upon further investigation, it turned out to be the nose of an enormous fossil skull.

"It is very rare to find such a complete skull specimen of this size and type in the region," Darla Zelenitsky, the University of Calgary paleontologist who discovered the fossil skull, said in a statement. "Based on our preliminary estimates, the dinosaur's head would have been well over two metres long and was likely of a mature or older individual. The skull of this animal has an enormous bony structure over the snout that would have made for a very strange looking individual."

Ten days and more than five tons of extracted rock later, the massive fossil was unearthed and moved to the university, where the team has spent the last several months carefully working so that they can remove it from the rock it's embedded in. It's turned out to be at least one of the largest specimens found, and according to what Prof. Zelenitsky told CBC News, it could actually to be the largest ever found.

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According to what Zelenitsky said in the University of Calgary press release, there's still a long ways to go before the work on this fossil is done and it's ready for display. Only the top part of the skull has been cleaned so far, leaving the lower part and jaws still to be uncovered. After the team has completed that, a thorough study of the fossil will add to what scientists already know about dinosaurs in the pachyrhinosaur genus, especially about their growth and development as they age. It's also possible that this new find may actually be a newly-discovered species.

(Images courtesy: University of Calgary, Julius Csotonyi)

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