Plucked from museum obscurity, dino discovered

Artist's restoration of the head of Spinops sternbergorum
Dmitry Bogdanov, courtesy of Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology

After a century languishing on the shelves of a London museum, the fossilized bones of an animal that lived about 76 million years ago have been recognized as belonging to a new kind of dinosaur.

The dinosaur, called Spinops sternbergorum, lived during the the Late Cretaceous era and was discovered in what's now southern Alberta, Canada.

The back story concerning the dinosaur goes back to 1916, when fragments of skulls from what were at least two Spinops were discovered by Charles H. and Levi Sternberg, father-and-son collectors. The Sternbergs sent the fossils to The Natural History Museum in London but the findings were given short shrift by the museum's experts. It was only recently that the skull fragments got a second look and paleontologists realized the trove they had stumbled across.

The animal subsisted on plants and weighed a couple of tons, measuring roughly 20 feet when fully grown. The animal is considered to be a smaller cousin of the Triceratops with a large horn projected from the top of its nose. Unlike other horned dinosaurs, it also possessed a bony neck frill that featured at least a couple of long, backward-projecting spikes, according to the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology.

Quick facts about Spinops

"I was amazed to learn the story behind these specimens, and how they went unstudied for so long," said Andrew Farke, the curator of paleontology at the Alf museum of Paleontology in Claremont, Calif., and lead author on the study naming Spinops. He said the discovery adds to science's understanding of horned dinosaur diversity and evolution.

"This study highlights the importance of museum collections for understanding the history of our planet," Farke continued. "My colleagues and I were pleasantly surprised to find these fossils on the museum shelf, and even more astonished when we determined that they were a previously unknown species of dinosaur."

In honor of the father-and-son collectors, the name Spinops sternbergorum means "Sternbergs' spine face."