The discovery and reveal of Regaliceratops peterhewsi was one of the most exciting dinosaur stories of 2015. Regaliceratops, a new genus and species of ceratopsid (horned dinosaur), is the most impressive horned dinosaur discovery since Triceratops. Regaliceratops has recently returned to permanent display in Dinosaur Hall. These photos document its long journey from discovery to display over the past 12 years.
In 2005, geologist Peter Hews discovered the tip of the snout of a ceratopsid sticking out of the bank of the Oldman River near a popular fishing and camping spot. After he reported his find to the Museum, Dr. Donald Henderson and a field crew were dispatched to collect the specimen. Due to difficult excavation conditions on the bank of the river and the hardness of the rock surrounding the skull, it took three years to fully excavate the specimen. These difficult conditions and the small horns over the eyes, similar to the Dark Horse character, gave Regaliceratops the nickname “Hellboy.”
Preparation of the specimen took 17 months and was an incredible technical challenge for fossil preparators. Due to the size of the skull and a number of natural breaks in the rock, the specimen was collected in multiple field jackets. The rock surrounding the bone was very hard and thick in places, requiring an angle grinder to cut away excess rock. An airscribe (a small pneumatic tool) was then used to remove the rock from the surface of the bone. Once prepared, the specimen had to be pieced back together and stabilized with glue. When complete, the skull of Regaliceratops weighed 268.64 kilograms (592.25 pounds), 3.6 kilograms (eight pounds) of which is glue.
When new dinosaurs are found, they are often only known from small parts of the skeleton. In this case, nearly the entire skull was preserved three-dimensionally, making scientific diagnosis relatively easy. Together Drs. Caleb Brown, Post-doctoral Fellow, and Donald Henderson, Curator of Dinosaurs, described the specimen and identified it as a new species: Regaliceratops peterhewsi.
There are two known groups of ceratopsids: centrosaurines and chasmosaurines. Although Regaliceratops is a chasmosaurine, it surprisingly shares some features with the other group of horned dinosaurs, the centrosaurines, that went extinct millions of years earlier.
Chasmosaurines generally have a small nose horn, large horns over their eyes, and long shield-like frills with simple scalloped edges. Centrosaurines tend to have a large nose horn, small horns over their eyes, and frills that are often elaborately decorated with large spikes and hooks. What makes Regaliceratops distinct from its close relatives is the small size of the horns over the eyes and the large triangular and spade-shaped bony projections from the frill. These features are unexpected given that this animal is closely related to the chasmosaurine Triceratops.
When the specimens in Fossils in Focus changed this past fall, Regaliceratops returned to collection. Due to the scientific significance of the specimen and its stunning nature, it was important that the specimen be on display for the public to see. A new home was built for it in Dinosaur Hall and Regaliceratops has now returned to display permanently.
The unique characteristics of Regaliceratops have greatly increased our understanding of the evolution of horned dinosaurs. Future research on Regaliceratops and other ceratopsids will reveal more insights into the evolution of horned dinosaurs, their display structures, and extinction.