Royal Saskatchewan Museum revisiting lost dig sites to learn more about the life of the triceratops

Researchers at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum are trying to advance modern scientific knowledge of the triceratops by revisiting history.

Fossil detective work could reveal new insights

Many questions remain about the three-horned triceratop. The team at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum hopes to answer some of them by finding old excavation sites to see what was left behind. (Allie Caulfield)

Saskatchewan was home to a "bone rush" in the early 1900s, as fossil hunters scoured the prairie grasslands in search of a specific three-horned dinosaur. 

Now a team of researchers at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum is trying to advance modern paleontological knowledge of the triceratops by revisiting history.

"Triceratops is a very iconic dinosaur," said Emily Bamforth, a paleontologist with the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM). "It's right up there with tyrannosaurus rex."

Emily Bamforth and a team of researchers hope to learn more about the life of the triceratops by revisiting historic dig sites in Saskatchewan. (Royal Saskatchewan Museum )

The team is digging through old notes in search of old dig sites, Bamforth said. In particular, they are looking at detailed clues left behind by Charles M. Sternberg. Bamforth said it took old-fashioned detective work to pinpoint the locations where Strenberg found success. 

"We pored over his field notes. We looked at old maps. We looked at some of the old photography from the time of those excavations."

If the fossil-detective work is successful, the scientific work will begin.- Royal Saskatchewan Museum

There's more than just the love of solving mysteries at play for Bamforth's team. During the "bone rush," the emphasis was on finding skulls for display, leaving gaps in the record.

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The hope is that by revisiting the old sites they can add scientific flesh to the bones of the triceratops. The team will be able to collect new data and may find bones, old bone wraps, and other artifacts. 

"With our modern paleontological studies, that geologic context is so critical to understanding the biology of these animals," said Bamforth. 

Many questions to answer

The team hopes to answer several questions. What did the triceratops eat? Where were they living? Did the Saskatchewan triceratops differ from its Montana cousins? 

Bamforth and the team scored a big victory this summer by finding what they believe is one of Sternberg's dig sites from 1929 in Grasslands National Park. 

"It kind of eluded us a little bit because there was some ambiguity in the description that Sternbergh had written," she said. "But we went back just last week and we think we found where this old quarry is."

Bamforth and the team still have much work to do next summer. There are still a couple of identified dig sites that they need to visit and collect artifacts.

"If the fossil-detective work is successful, the scientific work will begin," the RSM said.

with files from the Morning Edition