Chances are pretty good Darla is the most popular new girl at The Da Vinci Academy at South Hall Middle School.
That’s a broad statement to make, considering Darla is neither human nor alive. It’s also possible she’s not a girl.
“Darla” is the name of the new triceratops skeleton in the school’s museum. According to students, it’s the most complete fossil in Georgia, only to be outdone by another triceratops in Texas.
They’ve been practicing to be docents and show off the newest exhibit.
“Triceratops lived in the woodlands,” eighth-grade student Ellie Luciani explained. “The climate was more like the planet we have now in Georgia, with the trees and lakes, and they had very cold winters. But when most people think of dinosaurs, they think of tropical areas but they actually did not live in the tropics.”
The Darla fossil is 22 feet long, though she would originally have been around 30 feet. She had to be condensed slightly to fit inside the museum, which is also home to a mosasaurus fossil.
She’s named for the woman who donated her, Darla Roberts of Washington D.C., though there’s really no way to tell by the fossils if it was male or female.
The museum is open to students’ family members, but coordinator Cindy White is planning to have a community day at some point so more people in the area can have the opportunity to see the fossil.
“This is it for any museum,” White said. “She’s worth it.”
“People want to see the most complete triceratops in Georgia,” she said. “The most complete is 75 percent (in Texas). There is a new discovery, where it’s not in a museum yet, but it is more complete than (the other fossil) or Darla.”
Darla herself is around 60 percent original. White said she was prepared by University of North Georgia professor Steve Nicklas and his students.
“I found the skull years and years ago,” Nicklas said. “The skull is a cast. Some of the ribs, some of the vertebrae, all of the pelvis, all of the long bones, including the front limbs and the hind limbs, are real.”
The skull was one of Nicklas’ first finds, around 16 years ago. Another cast of the skull is in the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville.
“It’s certainly unique, probably in the world, for any school like Da Vinci to have one,” he said about the triceratops.
The fossil is now a permanent fixture in the school’s museum.
“I don’t know where I’m going to put (future donations),” White said, laughing. “We’re running out of room!”