Pro – toh – ser – aah – tops
A Small Ceratopsian
Protoceratops was first discovered in Mongolia in 1922 when researchers were searching for early humans. They did not find humans, but they did find lots of dinosaur fossils, including this dinosaur. Since then many many protoceratops fossils have been found. In fact, due to the number of fossils found, we know a lot about the growth and development of this dinosaur. We also have lots of evidence to show that it was quite social, and probably a herd animal.
This dinosaur lived during the late cretaceous period. It is considered a basal ceratopsian, so features that it has are considered to be passed on to later ceratopsians.
As far as ceratopsians are considered, this one is quite small. It was perhaps 1.8 m long and only 60 cm tall. Yet, for this size it still had a considerable weight of about 180 kg.
The jaws were stout, and strong. Although it had teeth, it and most ceratopsians had a beak, and they probably sheared plants off with the beak and may not have been very good at prolonged chewing. The beak is quite interesting. Some people speculate that it led to the myth of the griffin. Many protoceratops fossils can be found in the watershed of the Tien Shan and Altai mountains. Those were the mountains where the Scythian nomads were mining for gold.Greeks first started writing about the griffin about 675 B.C., when they first made contact with the Scythians . It was said that the griffins guarded the gold in the mountains. Since both griffins and this dinosaur have beaks the folklorist Adrienne Mayor proposed that the griffin was a misconception arising from very early discoveries of these fossils.
Frills or no-Frills?
The most notable feature of this dinosaur is the frill covering the back of the neck. This bony feature could have had many purposes. At first scientists thought it protected the neck. Later, some people suggested that it was a strong anchor for strong jaw muscles. More current thought is that it had a social purpose; perhaps it signalled dominance, with larger frills being more dominant. Or perhaps it signalled whether an individual was male or female.
Back On All Fours
One thing that I found interesting about this dinosaur is that it descended from bipedal ancestors but it is quadrupedal, walking on four legs. The near cousin Psittacosaurus, walked on two or four legs depending on what was most convenient.
Giving a Bad Reputation
The first specimens were found near eggs. They were assumed to be this dinosaurs eggs, and another, different dinosaur nearby had a crushed skull. This led to it being considered a raider, trying to rob eggs from an ostensibly Protoceratops nest. In fact, the other dinosaur, which was named Oviraptor, was found to be the â€˜ownerâ€™ of the eggs, and Protoceratops eggs were actually found much later. That discovery did bolster support for the idea that Protoceratops is a social herd animal that spends at least some time rearing its young.
Protoceratops was not that large, and one of itâ€™s enemies was Velociraptor. In fact, this became a certainty after the amazing discovery of a Protoceratops and a Velociraptor together locked in mortal combat, with the Velociraptor in front, and rolled on its back, with one of its arms in the mouth of Protoceratops. This scene was dramatized in a video made by the BBC. I have included the video on this page for you to see conveniently.