U.S. National Guard airlifts baby dinosaur fossil out of wilderness

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Amanda Cantrell, geoscience collection manager for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science inspects the condition of a juvenile Pentaceratops, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, after it was transported out of the Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness area south of Farmington, N.M. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A National Guard Blackhawk helicopter plucked the skull of a baby Pentaceratops– encased in plaster — from the wilderness and airlifted it to a waiting cargo truck on Thursday morning. The team also airlifted the skull of an adult Pentaceratops that was found about 16 kilometres away.

The fossils — including the full skeletal remains of a baby Pentaceratops, a plant-eating dinosaur with large horns that once roamed what is now North America tens of millions of years ago — first caught the attention of paleontologists with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in northwestern New Mexico in 2011.

Thurday’s airlift was mostly a success. Muddy conditions prevented the team from transporting a third and final plaster jacket that contained the remainder of the baby’s skeleton. That will happen later.

Less than 10 adult Pentaceratops skulls have been unearthed over the past century, and this marks the first baby skeleton and skull to ever be recovered, museum curator Spencer Lucas said.

With other dinosaurs, researchers have found the shape of the skulls can change dramatically from adolescence to adulthood.

“There’s a lot of interesting questions,” Lucas said. “We know what the adult skull of a Pentaceratops looks like, but we’ve never seen a juvenile skull. So it will be interesting to see what the differences are in shape, the size of the horns and other kinds of features.”

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