Rare Triceratops "Cliff" goes on display

BOSTON (Reuters Life!) - They call him Cliff.

A 22-foot (6.7 meter)-long Triceratops dinosaur that roamed the earth some 65 million years ago will go on display this weekend in Boston, one of only four nearly complete skeletons ever found of the three-horned herbivorous giant.

Cliff made headlines in April when the skeleton became the first specimen of similar quality to be sold at auction since a Tyrannosaurus Rex nicknamed Sue was sold in New York more than a decade ago in 1997.

Cliff’s journey to Boston’s Museum of Science has more in common with a Hollywood adventure film than a dry science tale.

Since scientists excavated the bones from the Hell Creek Formation in North Dakota’s fossil-rich Badlands, its resting place for millions of years. The fossils then took a transatlantic journey to Italy and then to France before coming to Boston.

In Paris, several well-funded museums in the Middle East were rumored to show interest in the fossils at an auction held by Christie’s. But the winning bid of $942,797 came from an anonymous individual, not a museum.

That’s where Boston’s Museum of Science comes in.

Museum president and director Ioannis Miaoulis said the phone rang and a man asked if the museum wanted a dinosaur.

The caller said he had just bought one for nearly $1 million and was now asking himself what he was going to do with it. Raised in Boston, he wanted to give something back to the museum he often visited as a child.

He asked to remain anonymous and that the Triceratops be named Cliff, after his grandfather.

The fossils were disassembled, packed into 10 large crates and shipped back to the United States to go on loan to the museum for seven years beginning with the new exhibit called “Colossal Fossil: Triceratops Cliff.”

The Triceratops, a herbivorous giant with a huge head, was thought to be one of the last dinosaurs to evolve before the creatures became extinct. They lived in what is now North America, feeding mainly on low growing vegetation.

“What is now North Dakota was then a vast coastal plain, a delta on a scale with the Mississippi Delta,” Dr. John Hoganson, North Dakota’s state paleontologist, said at an unveiling of the exhibit to media and invited guests.

“We have learned a lot about what it was like in that subtropical rain forest environment. There were 13 other species of dinosaurs living in the area at that time including T. Rex. We are sure T. Rex preyed on triceratops.”

The skeleton was found by a professional collector on private land. Under U.S. law, fossils on private land belong to the landowner. The bones were removed in huge chunks of rock, carefully extricated and then sent to a mounting company in Italy to build a metal framework to hold them in place.

Cliff stands 9-feet (2.7 meter) tall at the shoulder and the skeleton weighs 2,000 lb (907 kg). The head alone weighs 800 lb (363 kg). Alive, the lumbering behemoth would have tipped the scales at 12,000 lb (5,443 kg).

Editing by Jason Szep