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Smithsonian, National Museum of Natural History

Triceratops

Conservation


Original Triceratops bone entering CT scanner

Original bones from Triceratops entering a CT scanner. We were looking for information on the condition inside of the bones.

What was wrong with the bones, and how do you conserve them?

Many bones had cracks, making them very fragile. Some bones had developed pyrite disease, a condition in which the mineral pyrite, or fool's gold, grows inside the bone and breaks it up from the inside. We are treating each bone with special hardeners to fill the cracks and encapsulate the pyrite disease, and are making special cradles to hold the bones stress-free. Most of the original fossil bones will be safely stored in the collection.

So the new skeletal mount won't be the original fossil?

Correct. It will be an accurate, but better replica. Some replica bones will be made through the traditional method of molding and casting the real bones. To replace the duckbill dinosaur foot bones, Triceratops foot bones have finally been discovered, and we have gotten replacement replica bones. But other replica bones, the ones to replace the sculpted or wrong sized bones, will be made by using data from the original bones that we have manipulated in the computer to produce far more accurate replacements.


CT scan showing pyrite disease

One of the CT scans, showing evidence of pyrite disease, a very harmful condition in which pyrite crystals growing inside the bones break them apart. This was one of many reasons to dismantle and conserve the original Triceratops bones.

Walk sequence of the virtual Triceratops
A walk cycle of the virtual Triceratops


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