TAMPA — With a dramatic drop of a sheet of plywood, the Glazer Children’s Museum on Wednesday unboxed a giant dinosaur skull with the iconic horns and spiky head plate of a triceratops. It will be on exhibit starting Memorial Day weekend.
The noggin belonged to a triceratops nicknamed “Big John,” which set a Guinness record for the largest triceratops skeleton when it was uncovered in South Dakota in 2014.
The full skeleton will debut May 26 in a new exhibit on the museum’s third floor. Though an Italian team of fossil restorers were ready to put the whole dinosaur together this week, museum CEO Sarah Cole said she wanted to take a moment for the big reveal Wednesday “to build excitement.”
After one side of its plywood box was removed Wednesday, a team of three men strained to pull the 700-pound skull out on wheeled casters to display the stunning sight of a 66-million-year-old three-horned head plate. Its head is framed with a wide frill made of bone and studded with small spikes that scientists estimate created an intimidating presence as it trampled across the Dakotas and Montana.
Also on hand for the unboxing was Tampa entrepreneur Sidd Pagidipati, chairman of Ayon Capitol and Better Health Group, who paid $7.7 million at auction in 2021 for the skeleton, the highest price ever paid for a dinosaur skeleton that isn’t a T. rex. Pagidipati brought along his son Aren, 4, who, like his father, was seeing the massive head piece for the first time.
“This is wonderful, we’ve been waiting a couple years now to see this,” Pagidipati said. He firmly said there is no place in his home for the fossil he purchased. “We want to make it available for children everywhere.”
His son was wide-eyed when his father said, “Look, it’s bigger than you are,” and Aren softly stroked the giant horn.
“You are the only kid who is ever going to get to do that,” Cole said.
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The head alone is the size of a golf cart, measuring 9 feet long and 6 feet wide. It will sit atop a skeleton that measures 26 feet long and 10 feet high, the size of a moving van. The exhibit floor currently has bones lined up on long sheets of plastic, arranged like one of those skeleton kits sold to children.
Elia Smaniotto, a fossil restorator from the Italian company Zoic that first processed the excavated bones and built the skeleton for display and auction, likened his current work in Tampa to a “big jigsaw puzzle,” putting all the pieces back together. It can be done in a few days, he said.
Then the museum will work on the immersive dinosaur exhibit designed to take both children and adults into Big John’s world. The exhibit will feature tunnels with clear domes, where curious kids can pop up and see the skeleton from underneath.
Once the exhibit opens Memorial Day weekend, the museum will waive its rule that currently prevents adults without kids from entering the children’s museum, said spokeswoman Kate White. The dinosaur will be included with admission, but registration will be required because they will be doing timed entries, White said.
Triceratops is an unusual dinosaur, the Smithsonian noted in a recent article. It looks intimidating, but it was an herbivore. Its three horns allowed triceratops to lock horns with each other.
Big John’s skeleton is helping historians piece together more information on how the animals lived. A recent analysis by the scientific journal “Nature” found that an unexpected hole in the frill of Big John indicates that the opening is a combat wound, perhaps caused by a slipped horn during a fight. It also found evidence of healing at the wound, so he might not have died from the wound, but possibly from an infection from it, the journal found.