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Dueling Dinosaurs: The Fossils No One Can See

In 2006, fossil hunter Clayton Phipps discovered a large pelvic bone on a ranch in Montana. Many weeks later, while excavating the find, he identified the dinosaur as Triceratops horridus, a plant eater. But then there was a theropod claw, belonging to a meat-eater. Phipps had found two different dinosaurs together in death.

The meat-eater was either a juvenile T rex or its relative, Nanotyrannus lancensis, a rare dwarf species whose existence is disputed. Both dinosaurs were extraordinarily well-preserved, fully articulated, with envelopes of skin and, possibly, mummified internal organs.

Best of all, they seemed to have died together, not washed into their grave separately. And they appeared to have been battling when they died: teeth were found in the spine and near the pelvis of the ceratopsian, and the theropod’s skull was split laterally, as if it had been kicked.

Phipps dubbed them the Montana Dueling Dinosaurs. “They’re remarkable specimens,” says Mark Norell, chairman of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. “Especially the tyrannosaur – it could go a long way toward resolving whether nanotyrannus was its own species.”

So why isn't this find in a museum or a research facility? There are two reasons. The spectacular set of fossils is no doubt valuable, but no one wants to spend millions for it. The second reason is the question of who owns the fossils. The ranch they were found on is a split estate, with one owner holding surface rights and another holding mineral rights. Is a fossilized dinosaur a mineral? That question is still working its way through the courts. Read the story of the Montana Dueling Dinosaurs at the Guardian. -via Digg

(Image credit: Clayton Phipps)

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