New horned dinosaur hidden for 90 years in Museum

06 December 2011

A new species of horned dinosaur has been discovered after being unnoticed in the Natural History Museum collections for more than 90 years, scientists report today.

Spinops meaning ‘spine face’, was a bulky plant-eater and had a long frill at the back of its skull. It was in the same group as Triceratops and lived in the Late Cretaceous Period.

The fossilised skull bones were uncovered from Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada, in 1916 and then stored amongst thousands of other dinosaur specimens in the Museum collections. The Museum’s Keeper of Geology at the time thought the fossil bones were ‘rubbish’ and so they lay unstudied, until now.

One of the Late Cretaceous fossil skull bones belonging to Spinops, found in Alberta, Canada.

One of the Late Cretaceous fossil skull bones belonging to Spinops, found in Alberta, Canada.

Scientists led by Andrew Farke of the Raymond Museum of Paleontology, USA, and including Paul Barrett at the Museum, decided to re-examine them.

Reconstruction of the skull of Spinops - shaded areas are the preserved fossils

Reconstruction of the skull of Spinops. Shaded areas indicate the fossil bones, originally uncovered in 1916. © Lukas Panzarin

‘Apart from recognising an entirely new type of dinosaur,’ says Barrett, ‘this work shows how valuable our historical collections are: many new dinosaurs are actually recognised by carefully comparing old material in museum collections, which can reveal previously overlooked important information, and, in this case a new genus.’

‘I knew right away that these fossils were something unusual, and it was very exciting to learn about their convoluted history,' says Dr Andrew Farke

The skull bones fossils uncovered belonged to several individuals, explains Farke. ’Here we have not just one, but multiple individuals of the same species, so we’re confident that it’s not just an odd example of a previously known species.’

The second part of the new dinosaur species name Spinops sternbergorum is in honour of the two men that unearthed the fossils, Charles and Levi Sternberg. 

Horned dinosaurs

Spinops belongs in the dinosaur group called Ceratopsidae, known as the horned dinosaurs. They were plant-eaters with large horns and bony neck frills. The strange ornamentations of horns were probably used for protection or for territorial battles.

Spinops had hooks and spines around the back of its neck frill that made it look like an evolutionary intermediary between 2 other well-known horned dinosaurs, Centrosaurus and Styracosaurus.

‘This discovery is of particular importance as it has implications on the way we use the spines that extend from the bony neck frill, which may have been used for identification between individuals, in our classifications of these animals. 

'These embellishments are central to determining relationships between the groups of horned dinosaurs and are a sign of evolutionary relatedness,’ concludes Paul Barrett.

The New centrosaurine research is published in the Acta Palaeontologica Polonica

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