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College student finds 65-million-year-old Triceratops skull in North Dakota

Student finds 65-million-year-old Triceratops
College student finds 65-million-year-old Triceratops skull in North Dakota 01:13

A college student from California has been obsessed with dinosaurs since he was a young boy, but never expected to discover a 65-million-year-old Triceratops skull on a recent dig in North Dakota.

Harrison Duran, a fifth-year biology student with an emphasis in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Merced, unearthed the skull while on a paleontology dig in North Dakota's Badlands.

"I can't quite express my excitement in that moment when we uncovered the skull," Duran said in a university news release Wednesday. "I've been obsessed with dinosaurs since I was a kid, so it was a pretty big deal."

Duran went on the two-week dig with fellow "bone digger" Michael Kjelland, an experienced excavator and biology professor at Mayville State University in North Dakota.

Harrison Duran poses with Alice. University of California, Merced

Kjelland found a Triceratops skull in the area just last year, but was only expecting plant fossils this time around. The two were shocked when they came across the partial skull of a 65-million-year-old Triceratops.

"I was thinking 'Yes!' and even said 'Bingo!' and to paraphrase Harrison he said something like, 'Do you realize this is one of the highlights of my life?!'" Kjelland told CBS News. 

Michael Kjelland with Alice after she has been treated with foil and plaster for protection. University of California, Merced

The skull has been playfully dubbed Alice the Triceratops, named after the owner of the land. She was found among plant fossils from the Cretaceous period.

"It is wonderful that we found fossilized wood and tree leaves right around, and even under, the skull," Duran said. "It gives us a more complete picture of the environment at the time."

It took a week to fully excavate Alice's fragile skull before she was carefully transported to Kjelland's lab. 

"It was very slow given the fragile state of the mineralized bone and there were many pieces of the skull that had to be glued together, sorted, and collected," Kjelland said. "One wants to uncover it as fast as possible out of curiosity as to how much is there, but at the same time, one has to work frustratingly slow to keep it from crumbling."

His goal is to have the skull used for educational purposes, but for now, her location will remain a secret.  

"My vision is to have Alice rotate locations," Kjelland said. "The goal is to use this find as an educational opportunity, not just reserve Alice in a private collection somewhere so only a handful of people can see her."

Duran is hoping Alice can travel to his campus at some point. "It's such a rare opportunity to showcase something like this, and I'd like to share it with the campus community," he said.

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