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Dinosaur 'Mummy' Unveiled

18 October 2002 (All day)
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Intact. Much of the skin, and some other tissues, is preserved on this duck-billed dinosaur.

NORMAN, OKLAHOMA--A duck-billed dinosaur from Montana is wowing paleontologists with its remarkably well-preserved state. The 77-million-year-old hadrosaur, described here last week at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, retains traces of 80% of its skin, as well as other tissues and its stomach contents.

This member of the hadrosaur family, called Brachylophosaurus Canadensis, was excavated in summer 2000 by Nate Murphy, an amateur paleontologist at the Phillips County Museum in Malta, Montana, with help from Timescale Adventures of Choteau, Montana, an organization that involves the public in research. The group discovered the fully articulated skeleton--with 90% of its bones--and they excavated it in a single 6.5-ton block. “When we get a specimen with so much soft tissue preservation, it's a real opportunity,” Murphy says.

Although impressions of skin cover most of the body, other features are present. The throat seems to be intact, as does what appears to be a shoulder muscle. And exposed in the chest and pelvic areas are carbonaceous plant remains. Dennis Braman, a palynologist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, identified more than 40 kinds of plants, including freshwater algae, ferns, liverwort, and angiosperms, among the contents of the digestive system.

Dinosaur fossils with soft tissue preserved are extremely rare, and this one might contain more information than two famous mummies discovered in the early part of the 20th century by famed fossil hunter Charles Sternberg. “It's a beautiful specimen,” comments Larry Witmer of Ohio University in Athens. “There's a lot you could learn from it.”

Related sites
Phillips County Museum
More about Brachylophosaurus
A Sternberg dinosaur mummy at the American Museum of Natural History
Another at the Senckenberg Museum
And a story about an Italian dinosaur with preserved soft tissue

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