College student who grew up loving dinosaurs found a 65-million-year-old partial triceratops skull

The skull, dubbed "Alice," was found with its left horn partially exposed at Hell Creek Formation in North Dakota.
Image: Harrison Duran Triceratops skull North Dakota
Harrison Duran discovered the partial skull of a 65-million-year-old Triceratops during a paleontology dig in North Dakota in June.University of California Merced

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By Minyvonne Burke

A college student who has been a fan of dinosaurs since he was a child was part of a team of excavators who recently dug up the partial skull of a 65-million-year-old triceratops buried at a North Dakota dig site.

Harrison Duran, a student at the University of California, Merced, and Michael Kjelland were on a two-week paleontology dig when they found the remains at Hell Creek Formation in June.

Duran and Kjelland, a biology professor at Mayville State University in North Dakota, founded the nonprofit organization Fossil Excavators after bonding over their love for the prehistoric creatures.

In a statement posted on the organization's website, the skull was found "inverted with the base of its left horn partially exposed above the ground." Duran and Kjelland named the skull Alice.

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It took a week to excavate the skull, which was so fragile it had to be stabilized with glue and plaster. Fossil Excavators said Alice is believed to be over 65 million years old.

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

According to the school, a local cattle rancher and his family helped Duran and Kjelland safely load Alice onto a truck. The skull was then wrapped in a memory-foam mattress for protection and transported to Kjelland's lab.

Fossil Excavators said in the coming months it will begin the process of preparing the skull for research and public display.

“My vision is to have Alice rotate locations,” Kjelland told the California university. “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, a fifth-year biology student with an emphasis in ecology and evolutionary biology, plans to return to North Dakota to help Kjelland with research and to prepare the fossil for display.

The two men plan to create a cast of the skull with hopes that it can be displayed at the university in Merced. Eventually, Duran said he hopes to showcase the real Alice on campus.

According to Mayville State University, Kjelland found another triceratops skull in the area of Hell Creek Formation last year.