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Dinosaur-hunters unveil mummified ‘Holy Grail’ of paleontology


by Jean-Louis Santini 33 minutes ago

Scientists revealed Monday a partly “mummified” dinosaur, complete with fossilized skin and muscles, an incredibly rare find that sheds new light on the species that once ruled the Earth.

The remains of the duck-billed Hadrosaur were first discovered in 1999 by a schoolboy in a treasure trove of fossils called Hell Creek, in North Dakota, and were brought to the attention of British paleontologist Phil Manning.

After two years of excavation work, Manning and his team unveiled the exceptionally well preserved “dino-mummy” at Washington’s National Geographic Society, describing this sort of discovery the “Holy Grail” of paleontology.

“Paleontology is used to finding single bones. Occasionally we find a few bones together, articulated, but very, very rarely do we find a complete skeleton,” Manning, who is based at the University of Manchester, told AFP.

“This comes off the scale. This is a remarkable find, a breathtaking find that defies logic,” he said.

The herbivore Hadrosaur, nicknamed Dakota, lived 67 million years ago. It measured about seven to nine meters (23 to 29 feet) in length and weighed 8,000 pounds (3.6 tonnes).

Dakota remained so intact because it was quickly buried in a layer of muddy sediment, and preserved its shape once its soft tissue turned to fossil, the scientists said.

Hell Creek, which stretches into the badlands of Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming, has yielded several Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons including what Manning claims to be the world’s first known T. rex footprint.

But Matthew Carrano, dinosaur curator at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, said Dakota was one of less than 10 “mummified” dinosaur specimens discovered so far worldwide.

Helped by funding from the National Geographic Society, which has produced a television documentary and book about the find, Manning is taking a detailed look at the remains in a giant Boeing scanner normally used to test aircraft.

Armed with that three-dimensional insight into Dakota’s muscle mass, the scientists have estimated that its backside was 25 percent larger than previously thought for a Hadrosaur.

With a larger rear end, it could have reached top speeds of 45 kilometers per hour (28 miles per hour) — quick enough to outrun a T. rex.

Dakota’s skin envelope also suggested evidence of stripes that would have produced a camouflage pattern, also handy for evading predators.

Because the Hadrosaur was so well preserved, the researchers could more accurately estimate the spacing between its vertebrae, giving a gap of about one centimeter (0.4 inches) between each bone.

In contrast, most natural history museums display their dinosaur fossils with the bones stacked tightly together. Manning’s research suggested therefore that some dinosaurs were at least a meter longer than previously thought.

Commenting on the abundant clues yielded by Dakota, the British scientist said: “It is quite fair to say that our dinosaur mummy makes many other dinosaurs look like road kill.

“Simply because the evidence we’re getting from our creature is so complete compared to the disjointed sort of skeletons that we usually have to draw conclusions from,” he said.

Tyler Lyson, the 16-year-old fossil hunter who unearthed Dakota on his uncle’s farm in North Dakota, is now 24 and a graduate student in paleontology at Yale University.


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