Fossil restorer Andrea Iurin of Trieste, Italy, left, hands a fossilized rib bone to fossil restorer Tomas Stark of Sezana, Slovenia, while working to assemble the fossilized remains of triceratops Big John at the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa on Wednesday. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
A private gala marked the 66-million-year-old skeleton’s completion on Friday, with a public exhibition scheduled for May 26.
There were a lot of high-profile personalities at the Glazer Children’s Museum annual gala over the weekend, but none as famous as the newly completed skeleton of Big John, the largest triceratops ever uncovered.
The 26-foot-long dinosaur made history when it was first discovered in South Dakota in 2014. And it made history again in 2021 when it fetched a record $7.7 million at an auction in Paris, the most ever paid for ancient bones that weren’t a T. rex. The winning bid came from Tampa entrepreneur Sidd Pagidipati, chairperson of Ayon Capitol and Better Health Group. He is lending Big John to the museum for the next three years.
The auction made international news because of the stunning sight of the triceratops once it had been excavated from the rock and because missing parts were filled in with 3D printing. The 10-foot-tall dino the size of a moving van is one of the most complete sets of fossil remains ever unearthed, roughly 60% whole.
In Tampa, fossil restorers put Big John back together again in less than a week, and the skeleton was complete in time for Friday’s gala.
Now the museum will work for the next three months constructing 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.
Tampa Bay Times photographer Douglas Clifford closely followed the journey of the dinosaur bones to Tampa and the work it took to assemble the skeleton for display.