If there ever was a time to visit the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, it will be next week when a replica of the fossilized skin of a triceratops goes on display.
“The skin itself is amazing,” said production manager Matt Larson “It’s the first picture anybody’s been able to depict of the exterior of the triceratops.”
The four-legged dinosaur, known for the frill around its neck and three horns, is one of the most recognizable dinosaurs and is believed to have lived in the late Cretaceous Period.
The display in Hill City, which is a replica of the skin of a triceratops named Lane that was discovered in 2002, was found on a ranch in Wyoming by Arlene Zerbst and a friend.
It will be shown with the replica of a skeleton named Kelsey that was found on the same ranch in 1997 by Leonard and Arlene Zerbst. The Zerbsts, who are married, named the finds after grandchildren in their family.
The find was incredible, Larson said, because of the size of the skin and the detail.
“It’s a very irregular patch and the largest intact piece of skin,” he said. “Lane breaks the mold on what anybody thought the outside looked like.”
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Larson said part of the skin has shapes like the pentagons seen on soccer balls and other parts resemble that of the underbelly of a crocodile.
It’s very rare to find the actual skin of a dinosaur, he said, and the paleontologists who found it were astounded.
The dinosaurs died in a stream channel, which then experienced several floods. The sand was the perfect sediment to preserve the skin and bones because it doesn’t compress in the way that mud or dirt does.
“The conditions have to be just perfect,” he said.
The original skin and skeleton of the two dinosaurs are currently in Texas and Indiana. Larson hopes locals will take advantage of the rare opportunity to see the replicas in Hill City.
“They are there for the season, and hopefully, it’s not something we take down but something we build around and add to,” he said.
[Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect a correction. Arlene and Leonard Zerbst are married.]