for National Geographic News
Scientists today announced the discovery of an extraordinarily preserved "dinosaur mummy" with much of its tissues and bones still encased in an uncollapsed envelope of skin.
Preliminary studies of the 67-million-year-old hadrosaur, named Dakota, are already altering theories of what the ancient creatures' skin looked like and how quickly they moved, project researchers say. (See pictures of the mummy dino and its preserved skin.)
Further investigations may reveal detailed information about soft tissues, which could help unlock secrets about the evolution of dinosaurs and their descendents, the scientists added.
For now, the team continues to examine the rare specimen, which included preserved tendons and ligaments, and to prepare scientific articles on the find for publication.
"This specimen exceeds the jackpot," said excavation leader Phillip Manning, a paleontologist at Britain's University of Manchester and a National Geographic Expeditions Council grantee.
Most dinosaurs are known only from their bones, which are seldom found joined together as they would be in real life.
But "we're looking at a three-dimensional skin envelope," Manning said. "In many places it's complete and intact—around the tail, arms, and legs and part of the body."
(The excavation is the subject of Dino Autopsy, a National Geographic Channel special airing December 9 at 9 p.m. ET/10 p.m. PT. The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News and co-owns the National Geographic Channel.)
Find of a Lifetime
The hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur, was discovered in 1999 by then-teenage paleontologist Tyler Lyson on his family's North Dakota property.
It was an extremely fortuitous find, because the odds of mummification are slim, researchers noted.
First the dinosaur body had to escape predators, scavengers, and degradation by weather and water. Then a chemical process must have mineralized the tissue before bacteria ate it. And finally, the remains had to survive millions of years undamaged.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES