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N.D. negotiates to keep mummified dinosaur at Heritage Center

The fossilized remains of a rare mummified hadrosaur nicknamed Dakota are displayed Monday in the main corridor of the newly expanded North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck. Forum News Service

BISMARCK — The future of a rare mummified dinosaur discovered in North Dakota and now prominently displayed in the state’s newly expanded Heritage Center hinges on negotiations between its owner and the State Historical Society, which wants to keep the fossil in Bismarck.

“It’s an iconic fossil for the state of North Dakota and that’s why we’re working so hard to keep it here,” State Paleontologist John Hoganson said.

Tyler Lyson was just a sophomore in high school when he discovered the duck-billed hadrosaur fossil in 1999 on his uncle’s ranch near Marmarth in southwestern North Dakota.

Excavation was completed in 2006, and a wave of publicity followed, including a National Geographic documentary and a “Good Morning America” piece about the fossil, nicknamed Dakota.

Under an arrangement with Lyson, the fossil was prepared at the Heritage Center’s paleontology lab in exchange for the museum being allowed to keep it until July 1, 2015.

Historical Society Director Merl Paaverud said Friday that the state wants to enter into a $3 million agreement with Lyson and the Marmarth Research Foundation to allow the Heritage Center to display the fossil permanently, but he said the state hasn’t received a response to the offer.

“To get an answer has been very difficult,” he said.

Hoganson called the negotiations complicated but ongoing.

“I think everybody wants to be real careful and make sure that everything is done properly and everybody’s happy with it,” he said.

Lyson, now a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian Institution, said via email Monday that the parties are working to keep the fossil at the Heritage Center and establish a Marmarth Research Foundation endowment fund that would be used to fund public digs, build up research collections, train students and further advance the field of vertebrate paleontology.