College students excavated a 7-foot-long, 3,000-pound Triceratops skull while on a dig in South Dakota's Badlands this summer, Westminster College announced.
David Schmidt, an associate professor of geology and environmental science, led the group excavation dig, which included three current students and four alumni, at the Grand River National Grassland.
"It was so exciting ... we just didn't believe it," Schmidt told Westminster College.
On these annual excavation trips, students typically expect to find fragments of dinosaur bones and sometimes a complete bone. But this time was different.
In 2019, a rancher found something sticking out of the ground, which Schmidt concluded was the tip of a triceratops horn. Schmidt, who has a standing permit in the area, got permission to excavate, which he and his team did in June and July of this summer.
“As we continued to uncover more parts of the skull, I was in denial,” Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. “I was thinking, ‘This can't be a skull. How lucky would I be? That probably only happens to a very tiny fraction of people on this planet. Like, I can't be one of those.’”
Using pickaxes, shovels, a telehandler, a backhoe and a flatbed truck, they excavated the rare skull – they named it "Shady" after community members in the nearby town of Shadehill, South Dakota – and brought it back to campus, the school said.
Shady is now in a "secure location" until the school raises funds for restoration, which includes enlarging the entrance to the environmental science lab.
Schmidt and a team of students will return to the Badlands next summer to dig up other bones that remain at the excavation site.