Oklahoma Paleontologists Help Discover Oldest Horned Dinosaur in - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

Oklahoma Paleontologists Help Discover Oldest Horned Dinosaur in North America

Posted: Updated:
Photo of the Aquilops skull. [Scott Nichols, copyright Raymond M. Alf Museum of  Paleontology] Photo of the Aquilops skull. [Scott Nichols, copyright Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology]
Photo of an artist's rendering of what the Aquilops looked like. [Copyright Brian Engh, courtesy of Raymond M. Alf Museum of  Paleontology] Photo of an artist's rendering of what the Aquilops looked like. [Copyright Brian Engh, courtesy of Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology]
Photo of the Cloverly Formation in Montana. [Copyright Brian M. Davis, courtesy of Sam Noble Oklahoma  Museum of Natural History] Photo of the Cloverly Formation in Montana. [Copyright Brian M. Davis, courtesy of Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History]
Photo of Dr. Rich Cifelli. [Copyright Leah Vanderburg, courtesy of Sam Noble Oklahoma  Museum of Natural History] Photo of Dr. Rich Cifelli. [Copyright Leah Vanderburg, courtesy of Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History]
NORMAN, Oklahoma - A team of paleontologists from Oklahoma and California unearthed a 108-million-year-old fossil skull, the oldest member of the horned dinosaur lineage known from North America.

Dr. Rich Cifelli, paleontology curator of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, and three museum research associates have published their findings in the December 10 issue of the scientific journal PLOS ONE.


Read the findings in PLOS ONE.

Paleontologist Scott Madsen, a member of Cifelli's field team, unearthed the skull of Aquilops in 1997 from the Cloverly Formation of southern Montana.

Dr. Cifelli told News On 6 part of the reason it took so long to publicize the find was the state of the fossil. He said the skull was encased in stone like concrete, so a specialist used a carbide-tipped needle to remove one or two grains of sand at a time.


"I was stunned, astonished," Dr. Cifelli said about realizing what they had found.


Paleontologists have struggled to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the Ceratopsia, popularly known as “horned dinosaurs,” in North America because not many fossils exist. 


"A few teeth from Maryland, part of a skeleton from Idaho," Dr. Cifelli said. "This was the first unambiguous one. Absolutely diagnostic."


The scientific name of the new ceratopsian is Aquilops americanus or “American eagle face,” which is a hybrid from two classical languages: “Aquila,” Latin, meaning eagle; and “ops,” Greek, meaning face. 

Dr. Cifelli said the team found the skull while spending somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 man hours at the site in Montana.


Aquilops is recognized as a ceratopsian by its spike-like cheekbones and distinct upper beak bone, which Farke characterizes as a “ceratopsian membership card.”  It differs from typical forms, such as Triceratops, because it lacks facial horns and a long frill extending over the neck, according to the release.

"This guy," Dr. Cifelli said, "it sticks out sort of like a bike helmet or beret turned backward."

The new species dates to approximately 108 million years ago, 20 million years older than any other named ceratopsian species from North America.


The paleontologists say Aquilops was roughly the size of a small cat and weighed about three pounds. That's another key difference from its larger  relatives. 

They say the fossil record suggests horned dinosaurs arose in Asia and spread to North America by about 108 million years ago, the age of Aquilops. 

Lead author of the study is Andrew Farke, a paleontologist from the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California, and a specialist on horned dinosaurs.


“Life on land underwent profound changes during the latter part of the age of dinosaurs. This new find supports the view that migration events were fundamental in driving those changes,” said Farke. “Aquilops represents just one of many groups that made the trek from Asia to North America.”

The discovery provides new information on the evolutionary history and migratory patterns of one of the most successful of all dinosaur groups.

“It would appear,” said Cifelli, “that immigration to North America is not limited to historic times, but is a pervasive theme through Earth history, driving change to both past and present communities.”

The skull of Aquilops will be stored in the vertebrate paleontology collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman, Oklahoma. 

It will be the nucleus for development of an in-house virtual exhibit to go on display in 2015 in the museum's Hall of Ancient Life alongside the museum's Pentaceratops, which holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest dinosaur skull ever found.

Dr. Cifelli has experience with dramatic fossil finds. A few years ago he identified the neck bone of a sauropod found in Atoka County, Oklahoma. The bone was almost five feet long and belonged to a dinosaur called sauroposeidon. The whole dinosaur was more than 100-feet long, with its neck alone stretching 39 feet. 


Sauroposeidon means "earthquake god lizard," which Dr. Cifelli says it earned because of what it must have sounded like when it walked.

Special Features

Live Traffic

Get the latest road conditions on Green Country roadways.

iPhone App

Get breaking news, weather, sports & video directly on your iPhone.

CBS Shows

Watch your favorite CBS shows for free online.

Links

Looking for a website or event you heard mentioned on News On 6? Find it here!

TV Schedule

Need to know what's on TV? Check out our television schedule.

Live Radar

WARN Interactive

Special Coverage

  • Bridge Tracker

    How safe are Oklahoma's bridges? Use Bridge Tracker to find out now.

  • Fallen Heroes

    News On 6 honors our fallen Oklahoma heroes. View our interactive timeline.

  • Murrah Bombing Timeline

    Learn more about the events leading up to and following the bombing.

  • Storm Zone

    Watch tornadoes tear across Oklahoma and learn how to stay safe!

Powered by Frankly
News On 6
303 N. Boston Ave.
Tulsa, OK 74103
Newson6.com is proud to provide Oklahomans with timely and relevant news and information, sharing the stories, pictures and loves of Oklahomans across our great state.
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2017 KOTV. Oklahoma Traveler™ is a registered trademark of Griffin Communications. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.