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Miroslav Liska | Dreamstime

Over Half a Million Flock to the Royal Tyrrell Museum for Triceratops Fever!

Calli, a rare triceratops skull, helped shatter its previous visitor record in 2023

There were more people than dinosaur species at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in 2023. 

The famous museum based in Drumheller saw over 526,000 visitors last year, raising the previous attendance record of 501,000 visitors in 2022. 

The August long weekend is usually the busiest time of year for the Museum, and things were just as busy in 2023. 

On August 5, 2023, close to 7,000 guests visited the museum. 

A New Attraction 

The Museum’s popularity reached new heights in October of last year when a giant Triceratops skull was added to the “Fossils in Focus” exhibit.

The skull belongs to Calli, the nickname for a triceratops that roamed the foothills of southwest Alberta almost 70 million years ago. 

While triceratops fossils are common in the United States, they are exceedingly rare in Canada. 

That’s not even the coolest part. 

Calli is the most complete and best-preserved triceratops skull in Canada. 

The prehistoric triceratops skull is now the centrepiece of the Fossils in Focus exhibit.

The giant triceratops skull added to the Royal Tyrrell Museum's Fossils in Focus exhibit | Royal Tyrrell Museum
The giant triceratops skull added to the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s Fossils in Focus exhibit | Royal Tyrrell Museum

Years of Preparation for Dinosaur’s Debut 

But getting Calli ready for the spotlight was not easy. 

Calli’s fossil was discovered nearly ten years ago, in 2014, near the shoreline of Callum Creek, 200 kilometres south of Calgary.

The Tyrrell Museum’s technicians put their blood, sweat, and tears into separating the skull from the rock it was encased in.

In particular, technician Ian Macdonald spent a whopping 6,500 hours working hard to piece Calli back together like a puzzle.

Macdonald removed close to 1,800 pounds of rock to uncover Calli.  

“Sometimes you’ll work on a bone, and the rock pops off a nice smooth surface. But a triceratops skull is a very gnarly and bumpy thing, so there’s a lot of bumps, pits and grooves. I had to get into each bump, pit and groove and work on it a millimetre at a time,” Macdonald told the Calgary Herald. 

Royal Tyrrell Museum's technician, Ian Macdonald, posing with Calli | Royal Tyrrell Museum
Royal Tyrrell Museum’s technician, Ian Macdonald, posing with Calli | Royal Tyrrell Museum

Unusual colour

In addition to being well preserved, Calli’s appearance is unique thanks to the location where she was found.

Most of the Museum’s fossils are found in the badlands of southeast Alberta, resulting in a muddy brown appearance.

But Calli is shiny black, thanks to the geology of southwestern Alberta. 

The skull shares the same colour as Black Beauty, the museum’s Tyrannosaurus rex fossil found in the same region as Calli. 

“This is one more iconic specimen to fill out our gallery, showing off the amazing fossils that Alberta has and that all Albertans can enjoy and be proud of,” said Dr. Caleb Brown, the Mhuseum’s dinosaur systematics and evolution curator.

A figure of a Pachyrhinosaurus on display outside of the Royal Tyrrell Museum | Royal Tyrrell Museum
A figure of a Pachyrhinosaurus on display outside of the Royal Tyrrell Museum | Royal Tyrrell Museum

Calli is a Celebrity

Calli is attracting attention nationwide, but Brown stresses that the Fossils in Focus exhibit has much more to offer. 

Visitors can also feast their eyes on many plant fossils, a crocodile skull from southern Alberta, a horned dinosaur called a Pachyrhinosaurus, a dinosaur footprint, and more. 

Fossils are one of the many things that make our province stand out from the rest. 

Thanks to the efforts of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, we can enjoy these fossils right in our backyard. 

With Calli added to the Museum’s already impressive roster of fossils, we wouldn’t be surprised if it broke its visitor record next year, too!

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