Two animals locked in endless combat, both in a desperate bid for survival, but neither would walk away victorious. This is arguably one of the most famous fossils in the world, and is even considered a national treasure of Mongolia. This spectacular fossil shows the remains of two species of dinosaurs, Velociraptor mongoliensis and Protoceratops andrewsi in an all-out battle for existence.
Velociraptor was a small dromaeosaurid, part of the group more commonly known as raptors. Adults only measured up at 1.8 m long, 0.62 m high at the hip, and weighed 20 kg, roughly the size of a turkey. They were likely covered in feathers, and there is evidence of quill knobs on their forearms, indicating the presence of large wings, though they couldn’t fly. Protoceratops was a ceratopsian, a smaller, hornless relative of the more famous Triceratops. They were around 1.8 m long, about the size of a sheep, and weighed 400 kg. Velociraptor was a carnivore, and likely preyed upon the herbivorous Protoceratops.
The fossil was located in white sandstone cliffs of the Djadokhta Formation, Mongolia. The discovery was made when the southern Gobi Desert was explored by a Polish-Mongolian team in 1971. The fossil has been aged at ~ 74 – 84 million years old, putting it in the Campanian stage of the Late Cretaceous.
It is debated how exactly these fossils were preserved so amazingly. It was thought the animals may have fallen into a swamp during their duel, but the sediments are aeolian (wind-carried) in origin, making this unlikely. It could have been a sandstorm which caused their demise, or the herbivore may have died from the attack and the struggling predator may have remained trapped under its victim. This is evidenced by the Velociraptor’s right leg seen stuck under the Protoceratops.
Another more likely suggestion is that increased rains caused the collapse of a nearby sand dune, and so both animals were killed and buried instantaneously and in life position. In any case, rapid sedimentation caused by an environmental disturbance must be the cause, as scavengers had no chance to disarticulate the skeletons.
This fossil is an extraordinary find because it is quite rare to find direct fossil evidence of interaction between two taxa. Predator-prey relationships are more often inferred based on proximity of remains and distinctive marks, like tooth marks on bones, left on one by the other. The remains of these two different taxa found locked in combat gives unique and direct evidence of a predator-prey relationship. This also provides an exceptional insight into the anatomy and behaviour of these dinosaurs. For example, it gave insight into the killing method of Velociraptor, as the specimen shows the Velociraptor using the claw of the second digit on its foot to attack the Protoceratops’ neck. However, the fossil also shows the ferocious defence of the Protoceratops, who has seemingly broken the right arm of the attacking Velociraptor with a strong bite. Although a herbivore, it was definitely not one to be messed with.
All-in-all, finds like this are truly special. Whilst it is rare to find perfectly preserved dinosaurs, it is moreover a once in a lifetime discovery to find two at once in such remarkable circumstances, and provides a deeper insight into the lives of these two animals.
Recently, author Elizabeth Kay contacted us with an interesting story about her visit to Mongolia to see the Fighting Dinosaurs in 2009. Since photographs weren’t allowed, she sketched the fossil beautifully. The staff at the museum were all very helpful, bringing her a chair and shaking her hand as she left. She was wondering about the current whereabouts of the fossil after the demolition of the National History Museum in Alaanbaatar, and after some digging, we too couldn’t find a definitive answer online.
This article (click here) indicates that specimens from the original museum were housed in the Lenin Museum and Hunnu Shopping Mall. The article does indicate that the Fighting Dinosaurs may now be in the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs, as a line mentions ‘Velociraptor and Protoceratops examples’, without being specific in which samples these are. A review of the museum (click here) also states that the ‘second floor contains three additional rooms which includes examples of Velociraptor and Protoceratops remains’, again without specifying whether or not this includes the Fighting Dinosaurs. If anyone does know where the fossil is, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
 A photograph of the infamous fossil, a Velociraptor and Protoceratops forever stuck together in a vicious struggle. Available at: https://twitter.com/tetzoo/status/832591216470528000.
 Velociraptor mongoliensis illustration by Jack Wood.
 Protoceratops andrewsi illustration by Jack Wood.
 The Fighting Dinosaurs by Elizabeth Kay. Check out her website and Pinterest.
Information References and Further Sources
 American Museum of Natural History (2000). ‘Fossil Preservation in the Gobi’. Accessed 26th September 2019. Click Here.
 American Museum of Natural History (2000). ‘The Fighting Dinosaurs‘. Accessed 26th September 2019. Click Here.
 Carpenter, K. (1998). ‘Evidence of Predatory Behaviour by Carnivorous Dinosaurs’, Gaia, 15, pp.135-144. Accessed 26th September 2019. Click Here.
 Hone, D., Choiniere, J., Sullivan, C., Xu, X., Pittman, M., and Tan, Q. (2010). ‘New evidence for a trophic relationship between the dinosaurs Velociraptor and Protoceratops’, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 291 (3-4), pp. 488-492. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2010.03.028. Accessed 18th October 2019. Click Here.
 Natural History Museum. (Unknown). ‘Protoceratops‘. Accessed 26th September 2019. Click Here.
 New Scientist. (2015). ‘Stunning fossils: Dinosaur death match‘. Accessed 26th September 2019. Click Here.
 Norell, M. A., and Makovicky, P. J. (1999). ‘Important Features of the Dromaeosaurid Skeleton II: Information from Newly Collected Specimens of Velociraptor mongoliensis’, American Museum Novitates, 3282. Accessed 18th October 2019. Click Here.
 Turner, A. H., Makovicky, P. J., and Norell, M. A. (2007). ‘Feather Quill Knobs in the Dinosaur Velociraptor‘, Science, 317 (5845), pp. 1721. DOI: 10.1126/science.1145076. Accessed 26th September 2019. Click Here.