Shortly after completing his last year of high school, Kevin Terris was on a dinosaur bone–prospecting expedition with the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, where he was enrolled as a volunteer. While on a hike toward a previously unexplored area at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, Terris spotted some bones poking out of a rock — bones that trained paleontologists had walked right by.
"It's a little embarrassing to walk by something like that," Andrew Farke, the museum's curator, told NBC News, "but he was just in the right place at the right time, looking in the right direction."
The discovery was made back in 2009, and was only announced today with the publication of a paper detailing the discovery. It was another year before "Joe," as the fossil was named, was excavated from the rock that he was encased in (the paleontologists had to get special permits). Once he was exposed, Joe turned out to be the most complete known specimen of Parasaurolophus, a type of duck-billed dinosaur, or hadrosaur, that lived 75 million years ago (the massive dinosaur tail discovered accidentally by an Alberta pipeline crew earlier this month was also a hadrosaur).
The paleontologists who analyzed the find believe that Joe was less than a year old when he died, and probably measured less than two metres long (adult members of the species measured about seven-and-a-half metres). The bones also contained impressions of Joe's skin around one of his hind feet, as well as impressions of his beak. Scans of Joe indicate that as with humans, baby Parasaurolophus probably had much higher-pitched calls than its adult counterpart. "If adult Parasaurolophus had 'woofers,' the babies had 'tweeters,' Farke said in a press release.
Joe is now on display at the museum, in Claremont, California. For his part, Terris is now studying geology in university, and, he told NBC News, already working on his next paper.
Head over to the museum's Joe the Dinosaur website to read the detailed story of the discovery and excavation, and see 3D models and scans.