Denver Triceratops Turns Out to Be an “Extremely Rare” Torosaurus Fossil

Triceratops bones from Thornton being uncovered on Soyth Plaza at DMNS. Mike Getty

Gems, minerals and… dinosaur fossils? Not your typical find while digging around in Colorado’s soil. This summer, construction workers in Thornton came across an un-ordinary find as they continued work on the public safety building for police and fire. Crews found a Cretaceous period dinosaur fossil and it’s making history for our state.

Operators came across the fossils while digging on August 25 of this year, and since the discovery, The Denver Museum of Nature & Science has completed a full excavation of the animal’s body, now nicknamed “Tiny.” Excavators were able to recover 95 percent of Tiny’s skull and 20 percent of the body — making Tiny the most complete Cretaceous period fossil to be discovered in Colorado.

After a month of cleaning and examination by volunteers and staff at the museum, the skull and partial skeleton discovered — originally determined to be a Triceratops — has been re-identified as a Torosaurus, a close cousin of Triceratops.  In comparison, this type of fossil is much less common.

“Not only is the fossil more complete and better preserved than I imagined, but it has also revealed itself to be something extremely rare,” said Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Museum. “While the number of good Triceratops specimens collected from the American West likely exceeds 2,000 individuals, there are only about seven partial skulls of Torosaurus known. The Thornton beast is by far the most complete, and best preserved, ever found.”

The found dinosaur is very similar to a Triceratops which led to the initial presumption. But after unearthing more of the skull it was realized it was a Torosaurus due to its long, thin, and more delicate frill (the bony part around the back of the head) with two very large holes. Currently, the museum is working on unearthing the rest of the fossil. So this holiday season you don’t have to go back in time to see dinosaurs, Tiny is on display in the Fossil Prep Lab at the museum, and is scheduled to remain there for the next few months. 

Those interested in seeing this record-breaking specimen of Colorado History can visit Tiny at The Denver Museum of Nature & Science every day between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tickets for adults are $16.95, for kids 3-18 are $11.95 and for seniors 65 and older are $13.95. For more information on tiny’s journey thus far, check out the official video here or the website here.