The Mapelli File

Mapelli's near Pops' discovery site

The Mapelli family kept a scrapbook of Pops-related correspondence and newspaper articles, which they have allowed us to post here. We appreciate the family sharing these snippets of history with everyone interested in Pops, in Weld County and in learning about our county's amazing past! If you're using assistive technology, a transcription of each article and letter is written below the photos.

1982_072582_Tribune article and Magnuson Letter

1982 Tribune Article And Magnuson Letter To Mapelli

Tribune Article Transcription

Rare fossil unearthed in Weld

By Jim Witwer

Late one afternoon in February 1982, Ken Carpenter, a paleontologist from the University of Colorado at Boulder, was poking around a rocky field east of Greeley.

He and his graduate assistant, Emmet Evanoff, were looking for tiny fossil fragments of small rat-like mammals that would have lived in the region about 70 million years ago. 

They hadn't had much luck. The small bones that had been so prevalent at a nearby site just weren't there.

Just when he was about to call it quits, Carpenter went over a small rise and saw a pile of dinosaur bones laying on the ground. A closer look revealed the partially exposed frill bone of a triceratops, a large horned dinosaur that had existed at the same time as the smaller creatures.

Carpenter yelled for Evanoff. Careful minutes were spent digging around the bone.

The horn of the dinosaur soon was visible, followed gradually by the rest of the facial skeleton. Within an hour, the two had outlined the complete skull of the triceratops, the first entire skull ever unearthed in Colorado.

Fragments of the tail, shoulder, backbone and ribs later were discovered, but Carpenter delayed announcement of the find until the entire collection of bones was removed in May.

"I did not want any rockhounds to go looking for the skeleton and damage it," he said.

In mid-May, the skull, encased in plaster to protect it, finally was transported to Boulder.

"It took five of us to load the damn thing into the back of the truck, plus a lot of cussing and swearing. It weighs half a ton," Carpenter said.

Carpenter said the triceratops was the largest-skulled creature ever to walk the earth, with one Wyoming skull specimen now in the CU Museum spanning more than 5 feet, 7 inches in length.

The skull, Carpenter discovered, measures only about 5 feet - "it's kind of a juvenile," he added.

It was fortunate that he sighted the exposed bone, which must have been above ground for less than one year, he said. In another year, the entire skull could have been destroyed by erosion.

The skull remains in its plaster casing until Carpenter and his associates can begin the painstaking process of chiseling away the bits of sand and rock that form the skull's outer later. The bone was crushed by the many layers of sediment that gradually surrounded it after it first was buried, he said.

Reconstructing the skill will be impeded because the same pressure that crushed the skull caused distortions in the shape of the bone fragments, he said. He hopes eventually to be able to mount the skull on vertical supports for display in the CU museum.

Carpenter said he was disappointed the dinosaur's legs and pelvis were not also at the skull site. 

"If we had the limbs and pelvis, we would have enough to mount the entire skeleton," he added.

The absence of legs is somewhat of a mystery, Carpenter said.

He said prehistoric carnivores could have carried the legs to another location, but no carnivore teeth were discovered at the site, which usually occurs in such instances.

Water should have washed away the vertebrae before the legs, and erosion would have left large bone fragments, he added.

Preparing the skull for display will have to wait until Carpenter returns from an indefinite stay in Jackson, Miss., where he has been asked to assemble a whale skeleton.

After he returns and begins work on the skull, Carpenter has additional plans at the site east of Greeley, the location of which remains undisclosed to prevent damage to the area.

He has found the tooth of another dinosaur in the area - the carnivore Tyrannosaurus rex.

"Next, I'd like to find a tyrannosaurus skull," he explained.

Magnuson Letter Transcription

Dated July 25, 1982

Mr. and Mrs. Mapelli,

I don't know if you noticed this article in the Tribune this last week or not, but this fossil was unearthed here on your ranch at 

Mr. Carpenter drove in one day and asked if he could hunt for fossils. I gave him permission and before it was all over, he had found this fossil.

He came back one day and told Don he wasn't mentioning names or places so the area wouldn't be disturbed.

Hope you are all doing fine.

Jeanette Magnuson

1983_020883_Packet from Carpenter to Mapelli_Pgs 1-2

1983 Letter from Carpenter to Mapelli

1983 Letter from Carpenter to Mapelli

Transcription of Letter from Carpenter to Mapelli

February 8, 1983

Mr Roland L. Mapelli
PO Box G
Greeley, CO 80632

Dear Mr Mapelli:

Enclosed is a photograph of the Triceratops skull taken the day it was found. The rubble under the hammer is part of the skull exposed on the surface which led to the discovery. The rubble is the fate of all fossils when they are exposed to the weathering action of climate, It is estimated that the entire skull would have been reduced to unrecognizable fragments in less than ten years if it had not been found.

The skull lay on its right side and was crushed flat, The depression above the hammer head and below the horn is the eye orbit. The nasals would have been just below the front horn, above the beak, in the depression seen to the left of the hammer, A portion of the skeleton was also recovered and includes a partial shoulder blade, parts of the back and tail, many ribs, and lots of fragments of other bones. Dr Martin Lockley, Department of Geology, University of Colorado, Denver, has been working on the skeleton with the assistance of several students. They are removing the rock encasing the bones, a tedious process they may not finish for another year. Unfortunately, Dr. Lockley has been appointed Chairman for the UCD Geology Department and is no longer able to devote as much time as he had previously.

The University of Colorado Museum hopes to have the skull cleaned of rock, the damaged area .(where the hammer is in the photograph) restored and then to place-·the skull on exhibit for all to see, The skeleton is too fragmentary to be placed on exhibit, but will remain in the museum's vertebrate fossil collection for scientists to study. Skeletons are rarely found associated with Triceratops skulls making this specimen very important.

It is difficult to assign a dollar value to this specimen because it is the only one of its kind from Colorado, and it is too large (5ft.skull) and heavy (over ¼ ton) for a private collector to show off in his house. Furthermore, the work necessary to prepare the skull for exhibit is far beyond the capacity of a weekend fossil hunter. Besides, if it were in some private collection, then it would be inaccessable for others to see and marvel at. It truely is a magnificent fossil Colorado should be proud of.

As you may recall, Colorado is were the first Triceratops was found, but unfortunately, only consisted of a pair of horns. Thus, the discovery of the skull on your land has a great deal of historical importance.

Please note that at no time have I divulge the location were the skull was found in order to prevent unwelcomed visitors. I understand the frustration ranchers have of cattle wandering off because gates were left open, or trash left lying about, or having strangers on the land. I have had several people ask me where it was found, but my reply was to say near Greeley.

I hope that this answers any questions you may have concerning the skull. If not please feel free to contact me.

Kenneth Carpenter