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This was something that had never been seen before — 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.
The fossils first caught the attention of paleontologists with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science during a trek through the badlands of the Bisti Wilderness in northwestern New Mexico in 2011.
They knew they had to find a way to excavate and bring them back to the museum for further study.
After years of hard work and some paper pushing, a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter plucked the baby Pentaceratops' skull — 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 10 miles away.
The mission 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.
Traditional means for excavating and removing the fossils were out the window because crews were working within wilderness, museum curator Spencer Lucas said. No vehicles or mechanized equipment are allowed.
They had to pack in hundreds of pounds of plaster, countless jugs of water and a battery of heavy tools for the job.