2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Dinosaurs

Fossil range: Late Cretaceous
Protoceratops skeleton at Wyoming Dinosaur Center.
Protoceratops skeleton at Wyoming Dinosaur Centre.
Conservation status
Extinct (fossil)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Superorder: Dinosauria
Order: Ornithischia
Suborder: Marginocephalia
Infraorder: Ceratopsia
Family: Protoceratopsidae
Genus: Protoceratops

P. andrewsi (type)
P. hellenikorhinus

Protoceratops, (its name meaning 'First Horned Face' derived from the Greek proto-/πρωτο- meaning 'first', cerat-/κερατ- meaning 'horn' and -ops/-ωψ meaning face) was a sheep-sized (1.5 to 2m long) herbivorous ceratopsian dinosaur, from the Upper Cretaceous Period of what is now Mongolia. Unlike later ceratopsians, it lacked well-developed horns.

Protoceratops had a large neck frill, which may have served to protect the neck, to anchor jaw muscles, to impress other members of the species or combinations of these functions.

Discovery and species

Protoceratops was discovered during the 1920s, in the Gobi desert, in Gansu, Inner Mongolia. Many skeletons were discovered by the American expedition. the type species, P. andrewsi, was formally described by Granger and Gregory in 1923. The fossils date from the Campanian epoch of the Upper Cretaceous (83.5 to 70.6 Million Years Ago).

Protoceratops and Velociraptor in combat
Protoceratops and Velociraptor in combat

In 1971, a fossil was found that captured a Velociraptor clutched around a Protoceratops in Mongolia. It is believed that they died simultaneously, while fighting, when they were either surprised by a sand storm or buried when a sand dune collapsed on top of them.

A second species, P. hellenikorhinus, was named in 2001 from the Bayan Mandahu formation in Inner Mongolia, China and also dates from the Campanian epoch of the Upper Cretaceous. It is notably larger than P. andrewsi.

In the 1920s, Roy Chapman Andrews discovered the first known fossilized dinosaur eggs, in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. Due to the proximity of Protoceratops, these eggs were believed at the time to belong to this species. The nearby theropod Oviraptor was thought to have been engaged in the process of stealing and eating them. However, later discoveries indicate that the eggs were in fact Oviraptor's own.

Protoceratops Species

  • P. andrewsi
  • P. hellenikorhinus


An embryonic Protoceratops skull.
An embryonic Protoceratops skull.
Protoceratops hatchling.
Protoceratops hatchling.

Protoceratops was the first named protoceratopsian and hence gives its name to the family Protoceratopsidae.

Origin of griffin myths

Folklorist Adrienne Mayor has suggested that skulls of this dinosaur, found by ancient peoples, may have been at the root of mythical beasts such as the griffin; the horse-like body with the bird-like beak being particularly notable . Griffins were also assigned the duty of guarding large hoards of treasure, notably gold. The region of Mongolia where many protoceratops fossils are found is rich in gold runoff from the neighboring mountains, lending credence to the theory that these fossils were the basis of griffin myths.

In Popular Culture

Protoceratops is featured in the Walking With... special The Giant Claw, shown nesting. It is also featured in Dinosaur Planet, in which Protoceratops eggs were source of food for Velociraptor and Oviraptor. Protoceratops also had a brief cameo in The Truth About Killer Dinosaurs, fighting two Velociraptor. All of the above documentaries show the Protoceratops's relationship with Velociraptor.


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