Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit—including today’s fun poll!
- The so-called “Dragon King” fossil is arguably the biggest dinosaur skull yet discovered. It 2.8 meters (9.2 feet) long, 1.6 meters (5.2 feet) high and 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) wide. It weighs about 590 kilograms (1,300 pounds). Wow! We know why the fossil is so big—triceratopses were great big animals with great big heads! (Learn more about triceratopses here.) But why does it weigh so much? Skulls are made of bone, and bone is pretty lightweight.
- Fossils aren’t bones! According to our encyclopedic entry, “fossils are the preserved remains of ancient organisms—in this case, a dinosaur. Fossils are not the remains of the organism itself. They are rocks.”
- According to our animal profile, triceratopses “may have been one of the most common dinosaurs in the North American West” during the Cretaceous. If they were so common, why are fossils like the Dragon King so valuable? Read through the “fossilization” section of our encyclopedic entry for some help.
- Triceratopses may have been very common, but their fossils are very rare.
- Fossilization is a very unusual occurrence. Most organisms decompose fairly quickly after they die. For an organism to be fossilized, the remains usually need to be covered by sediment soon after death. Over time, minerals in the sediment seep into the remains. The remains become fossilized. Fossilization usually occurs in organisms with hard, bony body parts, such as shells, teeth—and skeletons with horns!
- According to our encyclopedic entry, the sediment necessary for fossilization could be a sandy seafloor, lava, or even sticky tar. Take a look at our map “North America in the Age of the Dinosaurs.” Knowing that the Dragon King was found in the U.S. state of Montana, which type of sediment do you think helped fossilize the dinosaur’s skull?
- Wait a minute! The Dragon King was unearthed in Montana, but is being sold in Hong Kong. Repatriation is a huge issue in the sale of ancient artifacts—from Hopi kachinas to Egyptian mummies to Greek sculptures. Why is this truly ancient North American artifact being sold in Asia? Why isn’t anyone objecting?
- The Hopi kachinas, Egyptian mummies, and Greek sculptures are much, much younger than the Dragon King. They are products of human culture, while dinosaurs like Dragon King predate human existence!
- Critics argue the kachinas, mummies, and sculptures were smuggled or sold illegally. Everything about the Dragon King sale has been perfectly legal. One amateur fossil hunter discovered the skull on his own (private) land, another excavated the fossil, and another cleaned it. The fossil was finally sold to collectors in Asia. (The fossil was originally sold for $35,000—so the $1.8 million asking price is quite a mark-up!)
- Well, people are objecting. According to the South China Morning Post, “The international fossil trade has become a subject of controversy in recent years, with a number of high-profile cases of fossil hunters digging without appropriate permits or illegally exporting specimens.” Just because the Dragon King was excavated legally doesn’t mean all fossils are.
- A paleontologist quoted in the article regretted that scientists could not study the Dragon King. “Commercially sold fossils kept in private collections cannot be studied by paleontologists because they can only publish research on fossils stored in museums or similar institutions.”
South China Morning Post: Yours for US$1.8m or more: ‘world’s biggest dinosaur’ skull on sale in Hong Kong
Nat Geo: What is a fossil?
Nat Geo: What is a triceratops?