"Mummified" Dinosaur Discovered In Montana

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"When the animal was alive, the skin was almost as soft as your earlobe," said Murphy.

A three-dimensional rock-cast of the right shoulder muscle and throat tissue, and the pads on the bottom of the three-toed foot were also preserved.

Leonardo's stomach contents are so well-preserved that researchers can tell what he had for his last supper; a salad of ferns, conifers, and magnolias. The stomach also contained the pollen of more than 40 different plants.

All of these qualities should go a long way to providing concrete information about the diet, range of movement, methods of locomotion, and paleo-environment dinosaurs during the late Cretaceous (89 to 65 million years ago) experienced.

"We have the shoulder muscle to look at, so we can see how much range of motion he had," said Murphy. "We should be able to tell the size of his average step, how his chest muscles worked, and if he was truly a quadruped or if he was bipedal."

"Paleontology is not an exact science," he said. "All we have are bones, and from there we develop theories about what the animals looked like, how they moved, and what they ate. A specimen like Leonardo will take a lot of guess work out and really tell us if Steven Spielberg's getting it right."

Discovery and Excavation

Dan Stephenson, of Minot, North Dakota, discovered Leonardo during the last hour of the last day of a summer expedition in 2000 sponsored by the Judith River Dinosaur Institute.

"He had the wisdom to not mess with it," chuckles Murphy. "He went and got me and I knew right away we had a complete skeleton. Looking at the geology, I told the team that this was a great scenario for skin fossilization."

Excavation began in the summer of 2001, when a demolition expert, using low-impact charges, cleared away the huge boulders on the top of the hillside. A road to the site was cut, and a bulldozer was called in to scrape off the hilltop. Team members dug a six-foot -deep (two meters) trench around the fossil's perimeter, and then went in with hand tools—the scalpels, brushes, and dental picks that are a paleontologist's tools of trade.

Leonardo was disinterred from his cement-like grave as a single 6.5-ton block to preserve the skeleton. "He's in the record books as the largest dinosaur taken out in one chunk; it was a monumental undertaking," said Murphy.

The scientific work on Leonardo will keep paleontologists occupied for years.

"It's like looking through a frosted glass window. With bones you get an idea of what the animal looked like, but with soft tissue you get to see how the animal is put together—it goes a long way to clearing the frost," said Murphy.

More National Geographic News Stories on Dinosaurs:
Weird Buck-Toothed Dinosaur Found
Dinosaur Tracks Preserved on Scottish Island
Comets May Have Led to Birth and Death of Dinosaur Era
Dinosaur Tracks Shed Light on Sauropod Evolution
Fossil of Dog-Size Horned Dinosaur Unearthed in China
Tyrannosaurus rex Was a Slowpoke
Researchers Rethink Dinosaur Die Off Scenario
Researchers Melt Polar Dinosaur Mysteries
Scientist's Finds Spur New Thinking on Dino Evolution
Dino-Era Vomit Fossil Found in England
Study Paints New Picture of Dinosaur's Nose
Skeleton of New Dinosaur "Titan" Found in Madagascar
"Tidal Giant" Roamed Coastal Swamps of Ancient Africa
"Feathered" Fossil Bolsters Changing Image of Dinosaurs
Oddly Angled Teeth Make Masiakasaurus Stick Out
New Find: Pterosaur Had Strange Crest, Fishing Style
Dinosaur Beak Probably Used to Strain Food, Not Kill Prey

Additional Dinosaur Resources from National Geographic:

Paul Sereno: National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Dinosaur Hunter
Wanted: Albertosaurus
Dinosaur Eggs
Destinations: Dinosaur National Monument

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