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January 23, 2018
T. rex tooth
Tyrannosaurus rex tooth.

The Virginia Museum of Natural History has received a $43,289 grant from the Federal Bureau of Land Management (under the Department of the Interior) to begin a year-long project to fully catalogue, georeference and photograph 4,873 animal and plant fossils dating back to the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, making an invaluable scientific collection that opens a window to the earth’s ancient past readily accessible to researchers and the public across the globe.  The fossils, which were collected from the Upper Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation on federally protected land in Montana between 1990 and 2010, not only contain a robust sampling of earth’s ecosystem about 68 million years ago, but one-of-a-kind specimens not found anywhere else on the globe.

Velociraptor tooth.
Velociraptor tooth.

These fossils represent not only comprehensive collection of the animals and plants alive at the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs, but also contains several very rare examples of predation and scavenging, including the only known fossil evidence showing that Tyranasaurus rex and Triceratops actually fought each other,” said Dr. Alex Hastings, assistant curator of paleontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural signs of T. rex feeding on the remains of Triceratops, which could only History and project lead.  “Previous fossil evidence has been limited to mean scavenging, but this Triceratops shows clear signs of T. rex teeth marks and bone regrowth, which would only be possible, if the animal lived for an extended period of time after the attack.”

Additionally, a new genus and species of fossil dinosaur eggshell were recently named from material contained within the collection.

“The collection continues to yield new scientific discoveries that are helping to re-shape our understanding of life on earth before the extinction of dinosaurs,” said Hastings.  “It is exciting to imagine the possibilities for this collection as more researchers are able to easily access this collection from anywhere in the world.”

The collection, which was transferred to the Virginia Museum of Natural History from the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, includes a wide diversity of vertebrates, invertebrates and plants, allowing for a larger ecological understanding of the pre-extinction environments of earth.

“This collection represents an excellent sampling of both large and small fossils from the end of the Cretaceous Period, which is a critical point in the history of life, shortly before the mass extinction that ended the Age of Dinosaurs,” said Hastings.  “The collection continues to yield new scientific discoveries and having this collection fully integrated into a publicly accessible database will allow people from all over the United States and the rest of the world to access the basic information and photos of these fossils, as well as realize the potential of the VMNH collection for in-person study.”

Of the 4,873 specimens contained within the collection, several are currently on display inside the museum’s special exhibit “Dinosaurs: Reign of the Giants”, which opened in July 2017.  The exhibit includes the only fossil evidence to show that T. rex and Triceratops engaged in battle, as well a large Triceratops skull from this collection.

“Because it is not possible to put each specimen on public exhibit, the digitization of the collection will not only allow the public to view thousands of specimens that they would not have otherwise been able to view, but it will help make the public aware that such an exciting and elaborate collection exists,” said Hastings.

The museum will continue work on the project throughout the 2018 calendar year and have the database available to the public during the winter of 2018-19.

For more information about museum exhibits, programs and initiatives made possible by donations and grants to the Virginia Museum of Natural History Foundation, visit www.vmnh.net.

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