Destination profiles museums and historic sites in Pennsylvania.

Vertebrate paleontologist and The State Museum of Pennsylvania senior curator Robert M. Sullivan, along with world renowned dinosaur paleontologist Rob­ert T. Bakker and three other colleagues, have named a new dragon-like, spiked-headed dinosaur from South Dakota. The prehistoric reptile is a bizarre, flat-headed pachy­cephalosaurid dinosaur whose skull is covered with knobs and spikes and estimated to be sixty-six million years old. Sullivan, Bakker, and colleagues agreed on the name Dmcorex hogwartsia, in honor of J. K. Rowling’s contribu­tion to children’s education and, of course, her fictional “Hogwarts Academy” of Harry Potter fame. The name Dmcorex means “dragon king” in reference to its evil-looking head which has a dragon-like appearance.

Currently, only two replicas of Dracorex hogwartsia skulls exist. One of those replicas will be on display this summer at The State Museum in Harrisburg (the other cast is in the New Mexico Museum of Natural Sci­ence and History in Albuquerque). The original specimen is at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Indiana. This special exhibit is one of more than three million objects in The State Mu­seum’s collection, including extensive collections of fossils, rocks, and miner­als from Pennsylvanja and around the world. The museum’s collections and program areas also include archaeolo­gy, community and domestic life, fine arts, industry and technology, military and political history, popular culture, and zoology and botany. While vari­ous aspects of the museum’s programs have garnered international attention over the years, this may be the first time that its scientific programs have drawn the attention of a prominent author of fiction.

In response to being honored with a paleontological namesake, Rowling said, “The naming of Dracorex hogwartsia is easily the most unexpected honor to have come my way since the publication of the Harry Potter books! I am absolutely thrilled to think that Hogwarts has made a small claw mark upon the fascinating world of dinosaurs. l happen to know more on the subject of paleontology than many might credit, because my eldest daughter was Utahraptor-obsessed and I am now living with a passionate Tyrannosaurus rex-lover, aged three. My credibility has soared within my science-loving family, and I am very much looking forward to reading Dr. Bakker’s [and his colleague’s] paper describing ‘my’ dinosaur, which I can’t help visualizing as a slightly less pyromaniac Hungarian Horntail.”

Dmcorex hogwartsia was discovered in 2003 by two amateur fossil hunt­ers in the Late Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota. They do­nated the specimen to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Indiana, where its official unveiling took place in May 2006.

“As soon as I saw the Dracorex hog­wartsia head,” Bakker said, “I knew I had to call [Robert] Sullivan in Penn­sylvania. He’s got the best ‘pachy­ brain’ in paleontology …. Bob’s got the most experience with pachycepha­losaurs – we needed help in figuring out whether our critter could be the female of some other species – maybe the flat head was a feminine characteristic …. And we needed the sound
judgment of a scholar who already had scrutinized a large series of pachy heads from just one species. That way we could get a handle on what sort of variation to expect as a juvenile pachy grew up into an adult.”

Sullivan, a noted authority on pachycephalosaurid dinosaurs, was astounded by how complete the skull is. “It is truly a magnificent specimen. You hardly ever find skulls of these dinosaurs in such a complete state,” he said. “This spectacular skull shows an amazing combination of primitive and advanced features” he added, “its discovery has dramatically altered our view on the relationships of these strange pachycephalosaurid dinosaurs to other dinosaurs.”

“Sullivan’s work proved that Dracorex hog­wartsia couldn’t be the [female] side of some other species – it really was new. And weird,” quipped Bakker. “Sullivan also supplied a totally heretical and thoroughly invigorating theory: that Dracorex hogwartsia was part of an evolutionary U-turn. All textbooks assumed that flat-headed species evolved first, and then some flat-beads acquired the bone dome. But Sullivan saw it the other way ’round. The oldest pachycephalosaurid fossils had bone-domes. Flat-heads came later. And Dracorex hog­wartsia was very ad­vanced in its head everywhere except in the lack of a dome.”

Pachycephalosaurids were a group of plant-eating dinosaurs that are largely characterized by their distinct dome-headed skull. The group actually consists of both flat-headed forms and highly domed forms. They lived in both Asia and North America during the Late Cretaceous Period ninety-five to sixty-five million years ago.

Publication of Dracorex hog­wartsia appears in the Bulletin of the New Mexi­co Museum of Natural History and Science in conjunction with a recent sympo­sium concerning current research on Late Cretaceous vertebrates from the Western Interior.

The cast of Dracorex hog­wartsia, on exhibit at The State Museum through­out the summer, allows visitors the opportunity to touch this “spiky” reptile from the past and see firsthand why it deserves its name. In addition to the cast, a small panel exhibit illus­trates how this creature looked when it walked the earth more than sixty-six million years ago.

The State Museum of Pennsylvania is one of twenty-six historic sites and museums on the Pennsylvania Trail of History administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Individuals who need special assistance should telephone (717) 787-4979 or the Pennsylvania TDD relay service at (800) 654-5984.


The State Museum of Pennsylva­nia is located in downtown Har­risburg, next to the State Capitol Building, on North Third Street, between North and Forester Streets. By car, the museum is within close access to Interstates 81 and 83, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The State Museum is a popular destination for school field trips that often combine their visits with a tour of the ad­jacent Capitol Building. General admission is free.

For hours, special events, a complete list of programs, or to plan your visit, go to on the Web, or telephone (717) 787-4980. For school field trips, telephone (717) 772-6997.