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Discovery of 3 Triceratops skeletons give SD institute rare opportunity

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- The recent discovery of three Triceratops fossils in Wyoming could include the most complete skeleton of the three-horned dinosaur to date.

Until the discovery last month near Newcastle, Wyo., just west of South Dakota's Black Hills, only two relatively complete Triceratops skeletons had ever been found, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported. The plant-eating dinosaurs that lived more than 65 million years ago often were meals for predators, which left behind only their skulls for dinosaur hunters to find.

The South Dakota-based Black Hills Institute of Geological Research and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center from the Netherlands are excavating the remains of the Triceratops and the left foot and leg of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Black Hills Institute president Pete Larson said he was excited when he first saw the T. rex foot, but he soon realized the potential presented by the Triceratops bones.

"We have been given a rare, I would say unprecedented, opportunity," Larson said.

The dig will continue for about four weeks as Larson and his 25-person team excavate the site. He said the fossils will provide a more complete example of the Triceratops, which in mass was about the size of an elephant and stood more than 7 feet tall.

"If you could imagine a person, 6-foot tall, inside the stomach of one of these adult Triceratops, they couldn't reach each side of the rib cage," Larson said.

Larson said few Triceratops skeletons have ever been discovered, so the new find could provide a lot of information. The dig indicates there could be some kind of parental care with the grouping of two larger skeletons with a smaller, younger one, he said.

After the fossils are prepared and mounted into a display, they could be sent to the Naturalis gallery, he said.