Transcript: Welcome to the Glazer Children’s Museum! We are so happy to introduce you to Big John, the world’s largest triceratops!
Triceratops means “three-horned face” in ancient Greek.
Big John measures about 26 feet long and 10 feet tall. Guests who are blind or have low vision can ask one of our staff members for access to our Big John 3D model.
Big John’s fossil skeleton weighs over 1,500 pounds. When this dinosaur was roaming the earth, it weighed closer to 6 tons.
Big John was discovered by Paleontologist Walter Stein in Perkins County, South Dakota in 2014 at a geological formation called Hell’s Creek.
Big John was named after the owner of the ranch where the fossil was discovered.
Walter Stein was alone when he found evidence of Big John’s horn. At that moment he had an incredible feeling he will never forget, because he realized he was the only person in all of human history who had ever seen Big John.
Walter Stein and his crew worked on getting Big John out of the ground for two full summers. They only worked in the summer because the ground is frozen in the winter and covered in snow.
After the fossil was out of the ground, all the bones were sent to Italy in field jackets to be cleaned and mounted.
A field jacket is a plaster cast that protects the fossils during transport from the dig site to the lab.
A paleontological preparation company, Zoic, received all of the field jackets during November and December of 2020. Big John lived in Trieste, Italy while they were working on the fossil.
When Zoic received Big John, they had no idea how big the fossil would be. By the time they were done putting the skull together it was too big to get out of the door of their warehouse.
The Zoic team worked on preparing and assembling Big John for 7 months, from December 2020 - June 2021.
Big John first appeared on display over a weekend in the Summer of 2021. He was displayed in a public plaza called Piazza Unità d’Italia (Unity of Italy Square) in Trieste, Italy. After that he was on display in a store window at a shopping mall in Paris named Galeries Lafayette from August - September 2021.
Glazer Children’s Museum is the first time Big John has appeared in a museum and it is his North American debut.
Through scientific investigation, there is a lot that is known about the Triceratops.
They lived during the Late Cretaceous period- about 68 million years ago. T-Rex was also present at the same time in North America.
Triceratops was an herbivore, meaning that he was a plant eating dinosaur. We know this based on the type of teeth they have and study of their feces.
Their teeth were used for shearing vegetation. Triceratop teeth grew in columns and when one fell out it was replaced, similar to sharks. We like to say they were like Pez dispensers of teeth!
Triceratops have a bony frill at the back of their skulls. The frill had 19-26 small spikes called epoccipitals on it.
The skull has many indentations on it; these were made by blood vessels. Today’s modern birds have similar indentations under the keratinous layer of their beaks. Keratin is a protein that helps form your nails and hair.
Scientists believe the triceratops' entire skull, cheeks, and the area around its nostrils was covered in keratin. Because keratin in birds is often very colorful, it is a possibility that the triceratops was colorful too.
We’d like to share something very unique about Big John.
Triceratops fossils are often found with small holes in their frill, but when Zoic saw a large, pickle shaped hole on the right side of Big John’s frill, they were curious about what caused it.
So they extracted a small piece and sent it for scientific testing to a paleopathologist, which is a person who studies disease and infections from bones, fossils, and tissue, at the University of Bologna in Italy.
The testing revealed that this hole was a partially-healed wound. Analysis of the size and position of the trauma showed high likelihood that it was a horn-induced trauma caused by another triceratops.
Because the wound was partially healed, some paleontologists speculate that he died from the infection caused by his frill wound, but they don’t know for certain.
So how is Big John so well preserved 66 million years later? We know that he was buried in an ancient floodplain where the conditions were perfect for fossilization.
Fossilization is a rare process because most organisms just decompose. In order to fossilize, the remains of the animal have to be covered almost immediately in sediment to preserve it. Sand, mud, lava, and tar are all examples of sediment.
Once covered, the minerals from the sediment leach into the bones with the help of water and over time the bone becomes mineral-based. In other words, they become rock.
Big John’s skeleton is 60% complete, this is VERY RARE since most museum fossil skeletons are typically only 20-40% real fossils.
The parts of Big John that are not fossil were 3-D printed. Fossil skeletons are normally created by using the cast of another fossil, but for Big John they couldn’t perform that method because no triceratops was as big as him.
Instead, they did imaging of existing fossils and then digitally increased them by about 5-10% to create a more accurate 3-D print of a missing bone.
In the late Cretaceous period when Big John lived, much of Florida was covered in water. The oldest fossils in Florida are marine invertebrates.
Florida is among the best sources of Pleistocene fossils in the world. The Pleistocene era occurred 2.58 million to 11,700 years ago and is known for animals like saber-tooth tigers, mammoths, and wolves.
Every day more fossils are being discovered. One of the reasons this happens is land erosion. As soil moves away, fossils are revealed out of the ground all around the world.
At any time, something new could be discovered that changes what we know today!