Australian scientists are racing to uncover the secrets behind a fossil of a tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops locked in battle - called one of the most important historical finds ever.
The incredibly rare artifact, known as Duelling Dinosaurs, was unearthed in Montana in the US in 2006 before finally arriving at a North Carolina Museum last month.
The fossil features the almost entirely intact skeletons of a triceratops and a juvenile tyrannosaurus rex appearing to be in the middle of a deadly fight.
An artist's impression of two dinosaur skeletons found in Montana in 2006 that Australian scientists are studying (pictured)
The fossils were acquired by the nonprofit organization Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences solely via private funds, and will be gifted to the Museum's Vertebrate Paleontology Collection
The release of the fossil to the public took 14 years following lengthy ownership disputes when the skeletons were uncovered and then detailed restoration work.
The fossil was eventually bought by a philanthropic group - for an undisclosed amount - and donated to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
The find is especially important because of two reasons.
Firstly it is the world's first ever complete T-rex skeleton to be discovered, while the triceratops is also almost complete.
And secondly, it could help answer one of the big questions that palaeontologists have debated.
The two iconic dinosaurs have long been depicted in cartoons, posters and books as being foes - but whether the T-rex viewed the triceratops as a food source has never been confirmed by dinosaur experts.
The fossil could provide the answer, but it needs to be confirmed that the two species were buried together and not separately and then thrust together by geological movements.
Makoshika State Park in Montana (pictured) where the incredibly rare fossil was found by a cattle rancher and his friends
The pair - nicknamed the 'Dueling Dinosaurs' - are preserved together in what is thought to be a predator-prey encounter, where both fought to the death
Experts from James Cook University in Queensland have been brought in to help solve the mystery.
Associate Professor Eric Roberts said he and his team were working on studying the creek bed site in Montana where the fossil was found to determine if the two giants were actually fighting each other.
'They call it the Duelling Dinosaurs, but we don't know whether they were duelling or not, however there are some pretty exceptional evidence to suggest that is a possibility,' he told The Brisbane Times.
Private fossil hunters - a cattle rancher and two of his friends - made the 2006 discovery, Professor Roberts explains, and did not conduct a thorough geological survey of the area.
'I've been going out to the site with a group of students from the university... my role is to put that context back in so we can evaluate some of the very exciting hypotheses around this specimen.'
The 'exceptional evidence' Professor Roberts refers to includes the fact that the skeletons were intertwined.
Also the T-rex appears to have broken teeth, while the triceratops had teeth stuck in bones its spine.
'This fossil will forever change our view of the world's two favourite dinosaurs,' said Dr Lindsay Zanno, head of palaeontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Incredibly, their body outlines, skin impressions, and injuries - including tyrannosaur teeth stuck in the triceratops body - can still be seen
Each of the 67-million-year-old remains are among the best ever found and have only been seen by a select few people since they were discovered in 2006
Pictured is an artist's rendering of battling Tyrannosaurus rex and the Triceratops horridus around 67 million years ago
'The preservation is phenomenal, and we plan to use every technological innovation available to reveal new information on the biology of the T. rex and Triceratops.
'We have not yet studied this specimen – it is a scientific frontier.'
The skeletons are worth millions of dollars and were the subject of a court battle over who owned them after their discovery in 2006.
In June 2020, a US appeals court ruled the fossils belong to the owners of the land's surface rights, not the owners of the mineral rights.
The Dueling Dinosaurs went to auction in 2013 at Bonhams in New York, but no bid met the reserve price of $6 million.
During years of negotiations, the fossil was reportedly locked away in labs or warehouses.
But thanks to donors, the non-profit Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has now bought them on behalf of the museum.
A team from the museum are removing the rock surrounding the fossils in preparation for a 2022 exhibit, while Professor Roberts is looking forward to heading back to the site when coronavirus travel bans are lifted.
The museum, in downtown Raleigh, said design is nearing completion on a 'globally unique, behind-the-scenes visitor experience'.
Entombed in sediment in Montana, they were discovered by professional fossil hunters - a cattle rancher cowboy and two pals
In conjunction with the fossil acquisition, design is nearing completion on a globally unique, behind-the-scenes visitor experience at the Museum in downtown Raleigh