Alaska Life

Painter brings odd Alaska dinosaur to life

It may have been the ugliest dinosaur ever. But Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum, an arctic-dwelling relative of the three-horned Triceratops, was uniquely Alaskan, a species whose existence was only announced by scientists last fall.

The Subaru-sized reptile had a massive flattened "boss" on its nose similar to the bony plate above the bill of a king eider or a great hornbill, an odd bump behind its snout and a parrot-like beak where lips should have been. Instead of long horns above its eyes, it had two sets of horns at the top of the frill around its neck, one pair of downward-hooked spikes with another forward-facing pair between them.

Even its discoverer has said, "This animal had a face only a mother could love."

In the atrium of the main entrance of University Center Mall, Anchorage artist James Havens is depicting the beast on a 10-foot-by-10-foot canvas daily from noon to 8 p.m. He's been at it for the past two weeks and expects the project to take at least another couple of weeks. He's not above asking for a little help.

"Would you like to paint a dinosaur?" he asked a girl whose mother had brought her to the mall to see the work in progress. He handed her a brush and she added color to the leg of one of creatures.

Having a place where he could interact with the public and make them aware of Alaska dinosaurs was one reason for choosing this work space, Havens said.

The artist, who often paints extinct northern reptiles, said he's sending questions and photos of his work to Anthony Fiorillo, who discovered Pachyrinosaur fossils in the Colville River area of the North Slope in 2006.


"Tony always has an idea for making it more accurate," he said.

Getting an accurate picture hasn't been easy. Fiorillo, curator of Earth Sciences at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, found parts of several animals in a confusing jumble of bits and pieces.

A museum press release quoted fossil preparator Ronald Tykoski as saying: "It's as if someone took 15 Pachyrhinosaurs, dumped them into a blender for 30 seconds, poured all the mess out into a ball of concrete, then let it solidify for 70 million years."

In a paper released last fall, Fiorillo and Tykoski announced that the remains were of a previously unknown species. The place where the animals were discovered, the Kikak-Tegoseak Quarry, is near the highest latitude at which horned dinosaurs have been found, they wrote, adding, "The Cretaceous rocks of the Prince Creek Formation contain the richest record of polar dinosaurs found anywhere in the world."

Tykoski told the Daily News that the animal was roughly "the size of a rhinoceros, with the exception that the head measures about 4 1/2 feet long."

The name "Pachyrinosaur" is Greek for "thick-nosed lizard." The species name, "perotorum," refers to the inventor, tycoon and politician H. Ross Perot and his family, who have made large contributions to the Dallas museum.

North Slope Pachyrinosaurs will be displayed when the museum's new building opens next year.

Havens is not sure where his finished painting will end up. He is in conversations with possible buyers in and out of Alaska, he said.

"But hopefully it can stay here. After all, it is an Alaskan dinosaur."

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.


Anchorage Daily News

Mike Dunham

Mike Dunham was a longtime ADN reporter, mainly writing about culture, arts and Alaska history. He worked in radio for 20 years before switching to print. He retired from the ADN in 2017.