UC Merced

UC Merced student discovers giant dinosaur skull. It’s 65 million years old

A UC Merced student obsessed with dinosaurs since he was little, recently uncovered a 65 million-year-old Triceratops skull while digging in North Dakota, the university said Wednesday.

Harrison Duran, a fifth-year biology student, is part of an arranged excavation dig at Hell Creek Formation, a world-famous dinosaur fossil site.

“I can’t quite express my excitement in that moment when we uncovered the skull,” he said. “I’ve been obsessed with dinosaurs since I was a kid, so it was a pretty big deal.”

The 23-year-old from Fullerton found the partial skull with Michael Kjelland, a biology professor at Mayville State University in North Dakota, according to a news release. The two named the Triceratops skull Alice after the landowner.

The pair also founded the nonprofit Fossil Excavators.

Alice was found June 4 among other Cretaceous period plant fossils, which can provide insight into life all those years ago.

“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 excavate Alice, whose fragile skull was stabilized with a specialized glue to solidify the fractured bones. The skull was then coated in foil and plaster, wedged into a makeshift box and lifted onto a truck. Wrapped in a memory foam mattress for protection, it was driven to an undisclosed location until transport to Kjelland’s lab, the release said.

Kjelland said he wants others to experience the awe of the skull. “My vision is to have Alice rotate locations,” he 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.”

The pair said they plan to create a cast of the skull, which Duran hopes to put on display at UC Merced.

“It would be amazing for UC Merced to be able to display Alice on campus,” Duran said. “It’s such a rare opportunity to showcase something like this, and I’d like to share it with the campus community.”

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.
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