Torosaurus returns to Central Montana

Torosaurus returns to Central Montana

In the summer of 2000, Central Montana became the dinosaur capital of the world for three weeks when a crew from the Museum of the Rockies spent time on land owned by Merl and Gladys Busenbark, excavating the skull of a Torosaurus. The skull had originally been found by Lewistown resident Ken Olson in 1999. Prior to that, in either 1971 or 1972, Merl and his son had gone looking for fossils on their land. Located at the base of a 20-foot cliff, the Busenbarks could see what they knew was a fossil, but they had no idea what a find it would be.

More than 25 years later, Olson visited the Busenbarks in 1999 and asked permission to search the area for dinosaur fos-sils. At that point Merl showed him some pieces of bone that he had picked up from the site in the early 1970s.

Olson, who has long served as a research associate in paleontology for the Museum of the Rockies, recognized the pieces of bone as being from the skull of a horned dinosaur. The spot where the bones had been found was relocated, and Olson began the initial excavation on behalf of the Museum. After seven days of digging, it was apparent that the skull was largely complete and represented a spectacular find.

Because the skull was located in remote and rugged country with no nearby roads, the problem of transportation of the skull to the Museum of the Rockies became a difficult one to solve.

In 2001, the Army National Guard came to the rescue. Using two Black Hawk helicopters from the base in Helena, the skull, weighing several thousand pounds, was moved from the base of the cliff and loaded on large trucks.

It took three more years of preparation before the Torosaurus skull went on display at the Museum, along with another one from eastern Montana. A life-sized, full-body sculpture of Torosaurus occupies the center of one of the two new dinosaur halls at the Museum. This sculpture is larger than an African bull elephant.

The Busenbarks, of Fergus County, knew that the Museum was the proper place for the skull found on their land, and the Museum of the Rockies agreed to have a resin cast made of the skull, which was nearly 90 per-cent complete. The Busenbarks wanted the cast to stay in Fergus County, so they donated it to the Central Montana Museum located in Lewistown. Olson pieced the cast skull together and sculpted the missing portions of the left side of the face from the “beak” to the horn, resulting in a completely restored skull for the exhibit at the Central Montana Museum.