Montana discovery highlights life at the end of the dinosaur era

Paleontologists from the University of Washington and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture spent the summer working in Montana. They dug up the fossilized remains of four dinosaurs. All of the dinosaur fossils will be taken to the Burke Museum, where the public will be able to watch the team of paleontologists remove the rock surrounding the fossils. Work at the museum will be carried out in the fossil preparation laboratory.

The fossilized remains are of several different types of dinosaurs. One of the fossils is of the hip bones of a theropod the size of an ostrich, a meat-eating dinosaur from the group that contains two of the most famous dinosaurs, the Tyrannosaurus rex and raptors. Another of the fossils includes the hip and legs of an unnamed duck-billed dinosaur.

Paleontologists unearthed the remains of the pelvis, a toe claw, and limbs from a theropod that the scientists haven't yet identified. Those fossils could come from a rare ostrich-like creature called Anzu or be an entirely new species. One of the coolest discoveries from the site is the skull and other fossilized bones from a Triceratops.

Three of the four fossilized specimens were found in close proximity on Bureau of Land Management land in Montana leased to a rancher. All the fossils were found in northeastern Montana in the Hell Creek Formation dating to the end of the Cretaceous Period between 66 and 68 million years ago.

That formation is particularly interesting because it gives a snapshot of life on Earth just before, during, and after the K-Pg mass extinction event brought an end to the age of the dinosaurs. Paleontologists call the Hell Creek Formation excavation project unique because it samples plant and animal life throughout the rock. The formation sheds light on changes that occurred as the Earth transitioned from being dominated by dinosaurs to being dominated by mammals. All of the fossils, except for the Triceratops, have been removed from the formation. Triceratops excavation will require an additional field season as more bones were discovered.