When Alan Detrich purchased a dinosaur skull found in Buffalo, in 2012, he knew it was something special, but now he is convinced it is one-of-a-kind.
The fossil, originally thought to be the largest triceratops skull ever found, is now believed by both its owner and its restorer to be an entirely new ceratopsian species.
Detrich, who bought the skull from fellow fossil hunter John Carter in 2012, said specialists have looked at images of the creature and said that it's something new. The fossil has a 17-inch-long nose horn.
"That's unheard of," Detrich said. "They're usually half that size. And (the skull) is 8 feet long, which would be a monster skull for a triceratops."
Neal Larson, founder of Larson Paleontology Unlimited and co-founder of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research with his brother Pete Larson, confirmed the unusual size and features of the fossil.
"I immediately had my suspicions this was something new because of the size and placement of the nasal horn," Larson said. "They're usually in the middle of the nose, not the front, and it's twice as large as most of them. On top of that, the frill at the top of the skull curves upward. They usually lay back."
Detrich also noted that the skull has a ridge under the jaw, something he says they have not yet determined the function of.
"It's going to be interesting for scientists to look at it and try to figure it out," Detrich said.
Larson has spent more than 1,000 hours preparing and restoring the skull since March of 2013, working on it part time for a year and full time from April through July this year to finish the job. Larson said that it was some of the most difficult preparation of his four decades in the business.
"It was embedded in 3 to 6 inches of sideritic iron," Larson said, explaining the iron was like "very hard concrete."
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Still, Larson said he was excited to work on it, especially considering the rarity of finding a fossil of a new species that was mostly intact.
"You usually find them fragmented in bits or pieces, not whole like this," Larson said. "I didn't have to do as much restoration as I did preparation."
Detrich is now trying to find a home for the skull in a museum, preferably in the United States or somewhere else in North America.
"It's something new to science, so we hope they recognize it for what it is," Detrich said. "I think they will. If it looks like it could eat a 10-year-old boy, it's valuable."
Detrich praised Larson's work on the skull, saying that nobody is better at preparing fossils.
"His company is called Larson Paleontology Unlimited, and it truly is unlimited," Detrich said. "I immediately knew he'd be the man for the job."
Larson, for his part, said none of this would be possible without Detrich's work.
"Alan's determination got this financed, got this prepared, and got it done," Larson said. "Without that, no one would have known about it, and who knows what would have happened."
Detrich, though, is optimistic that it will find a home soon.
"All good things end up in museums sooner or later," Detrich said.