"Amazing" Dino Fossil Found With Skin, Tissue in China

Nicholas Wadhams
for National Geographic News
January 16, 2008

The fossil of a dinosaur with a flesh wound has been discovered in northeastern China, offering the most complete view to date of dinosaur skin, a scientist says.

The fossil is of a 130-million-year-old Psittacosaurus, or parrot lizard, a beaked reptile about the size of a pig that could walk on either two or four legs.

The animal died after suffering a wound from a predator—or was perhaps bitten by a scavenger after it died—exposing the inner skin structure, which was preserved for millions of years.

A recent study of the fossil identified what appeared to be tooth marks in the wound.

The research also suggests that some dinosaurs had thick, scaly skin like that of modern-day reptiles, refuting the theory that dinos had primitive feathers.

The findings were reported by Theagarten Lingham-Soliar of South Africa's University of KwaZulu-Natal in the current issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Soft Tissue Preserved

Lingham-Soliar has identified what he says is fossilized surface skin as well as a cross-section of the thick layer below the surface, called the dermis, around the animal's lower left side.

"To have soft tissue preserved is amazing in the fossil record, because clearly the soft tissue is about the first thing that will decay and disintegrate," Lingham-Soliar said.

"Until now we had seen only surface preservations, but this is the first time we see a deep cross-section of the skin cut away at right angles to the surface."

(Read related story: "'Dinosaur Mummy' Found; Has Intact Skin, Tissue" [December 3, 2007].)

The fossil was found in a formation in northeast China's Liaoning Province dating to between 125 million and 135 million years ago.

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