- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota officials are negotiating a $3 million deal to keep Dakota the duckbilled dinosaur on permanent display in Bismarck, where the rare mummified fossil is planned as a cornerstone of a $51 million expansion at the North Dakota Heritage Center on the state Capitol grounds.

State paleontologist John Hoganson is negotiating an agreement between the state Historical Society and the petrified creature’s owner, who found the specimen in North Dakota’s Badlands 15 years ago.

“We want to keep that iconic fossil in North Dakota,” Hoganson said. “After all, it’s called Dakota.”

Hoganson said negotiations have been slow and complex, but an inked deal would mean that the state could begin to pursuing fundraising.

“There is no state money earmarked at this time,” he said.

Researchers say Dakota is one of the more important dinosaur discoveries in recent times. It is one of only a few mummified dinosaurs in existence and may have the most and best-preserved skin, along with ligaments, tendons and possibly some internal organs. The mummified creature has been the subject of a children’s book and an adult book, and National Geographic television programs.

Dakota was on display in Japan in 2009, and was a highlight among 250 fossilized creatures from around the world.

Tyler Lyson was in high school in 1999 when he found the 67 million-year-old Edmontosaurus with fossilized skin on his uncle’s ranch near Marmarth, in southwestern North Dakota. Lyson, who went on to earn a doctorate in paleontology from Yale University, is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Smithsonian.

Lyson said in an email to The Associated Press that “we are all working to keep Dakota at the North Dakota Heritage Center and establish a Marmarth Research Foundation endowment fund to be used to further vertebrate paleontology.”

Money would be used to “fund public digs, build up research collections, train students and further the advancement of paleontology,” he said.

Lyson agreed the process has been slow, in part because he has “been busy applying for post docs and jobs and I have been prioritizing that, over this particular agreement.”

The North Dakota Heritage Center’s grand opening is slated for November, and Dakota is on loan there until July 2015.

Moving the dinosaur is no easy undertaking. Dakota’s body, fossilized into stone, weighs about 8,500 pounds, and two other portions, including a tail and an arm, bring the total to about 10,000 pounds.

Dakota will be on display next to another dinosaur fossil and an antique automobile that was manufactured in North Dakota, Hoganson said.

“We’re sure hoping to keep Dakota here, that’s for sure,” Hoganson said.

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