The amazing discovery of one of the finest and rarest dinosaur specimens ever unearthed -- a partially intact dino mummy found in the Hell Creek Formation Badlands of North Dakota was made by 16-year-old fossil hunter Tyler Lyson on his uncle's farm.
The story of the find, the excavation of the mummy and its painstaking analysis by a team of international scientists is told in a new book from National Geographic, Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs: Soft Tissues and Hard Science, by internationally renowned British paleontologist Phillip Manning. This story examines a 65-million-year case so cold it's the hottest development in modern dinosaur hunting.
The fossilized remains, discovered in 1999, included not just bones, but fossilized soft tissues like skin, tendons and ligaments. Most importantly, it was the first-ever find of a dinosaur where the skin "envelope" had not collapsed onto the skeleton. This has allowed scientists to calculate muscle volume and mass for the first time. The fact that the skin is mostly intact allows for the exciting possibility that some of its original chemistry is still present.
With the aid of a giant CT scanner provided by the Boeing Company, technology usually reserved for testing aircraft and spacecraft parts for NASA, the team also attempted to peer inside Dakota's preserved body and tail. The scan of the 3,600-kilogram body was of the one of the largest CT scans ever undertaken.
Dino Autopsy reveals what the scans showed and examines the extent to which the results could change our understanding of Hadrosaurs forever. Dakota may contribute some significant findings to the field of palaeontology, altering our comprehension of how dinosaurs looked and moved:
- The Hadrosaur's backside appears to be approximately 25 percent larger than previously thought; a surprising conclusion that could change our image of the dinosaur for the last 150 years.
- The Hadrosaur's backside is some 25 percent bigger than originally thought, enabling it to reach speeds of 28 mph - 10 mph faster than T. rex.
- The skin envelope also shows evidence that the Hadrosaur may have been striped and not block coloured, producing an almost striped camouflage pattern on some parts of the dinosaur.
With its body so well preserved, researchers are able to more accurately estimate the spacing between vertebrae. While most museums have dinosaur bones stacked tightly against each other, Dr. Manning's research suggests that the vertebrae should be stacked approximately one centimetre apart. This could mean that some dinosaurs are at least one metre longer than previously thought.
In this book Manning tells how he and Lyson --- now a geology and geophysics graduate student at Yale University -- and a multidisciplinary team of scientists embarked on an extraordinary project to excavate, preserve and analyze the ancient, enormous creature they have dubbed Dakota, using hard-won experience and cutting-edge technology to peer millions of years into prehistory. The result is an accurate and revealing portrait of a single dinosaur and the Late Cretaceous world in which it lived.
"The fossilized bones of the hadrosaur that Tyler discovered would allow the resurrection of many grave secrets locked in stone for more than 65 million years. The presence of rare soft-tissue structures would ensure that this fossil would become a member of a prehistoric elite - dinosaur mummies... Such remarkable fossils enable immense advances in our understanding of long-vanished lives and forgotten worlds," writes Manning in his prologue.
The book is more than a window into a far distant past. It's also an account of more than a century of paleontological pioneers and accomplishments and a portrait of the state of the art in modern paleontology. Manning takes readers on a chronological tour of the handful of dinosaur mummies that have teased the scientific community since 1908, when the first remarkably preserved example was discovered and excavated by the legendary Sternberg family.
Since then, similar discoveries from Italy to China and from North America to Patagonia have added to our knowledge and understanding of these remarkable fossils - but none so much as Dakota, whose secrets are being explored by Manning's international team of scientists who work with everything from tweezers, plaster and burlap to protein analysis, electron microscopes and the world's largest CT scanner -- originally built to examine NASA spacecraft -- as they excavate, record, analyze and interpret this incredible 8,000-pound find. The field research was partly funded by the National Geographic Society.
Among the exciting discoveries are a fleshy pad on Dakota's palm, hooves on its feet made of keratin, and well-preserved skin scales that vary in size and shape across the body, tail, arms and legs of the dinosaur.
The National Geographic Channel will air a documentary on this unprecedented find on Sunday, Dec. 9, at 9 p.m. ET/10 p.m. PT. "Dino Autopsy" offers never-before-seen details of what dinosaurs really looked like, as well as clues to how they moved and lived. Using the giant CT scanner provided by the Boeing company at a NASA facility, scientists will attempt to peer inside the preserved body and tail. Their findings may alter our perception of dinosaurs' body shape, skin texture and locomotion. Significant findings have already been made.
Phillip Manning is a paleontologist, fossil hunter and writer. He has taught vertebrate paleontology and evolution at the universities of Liverpool and Manchester and currently heads the vertebrate paleontology research group at the University of Manchester (U.K.). He has worked in museums on the Isle of Wight, Clitheroe, York and Manchester and has held several curatorial positions. His research is both broad and diverse, and he has published papers on dinosaur tracks, theropod biomechanics, arthropod paleobiology, vertebrate locomotion and the evolution of respiration and flight in birds.
For young readers, the discovery is also chronicled in the recently released book Dinomummy: The Life, Death, and Discovery of Dakota, a Dinosaur from Hell Creek, by Phillip Manning (published by Kingfisher Books/Houghton Mifflin), which recounts Tyler Lyson's story about his dinosaur excavations as a teenager on his uncle’s ranch in North Dakota. Lyson now has a degree in biology and is currently studying for a PhD in paleontology at Yale University. He is the founder of the Marmarth Research Foundation, an organization dedicated to the excavation, preservation, and study of dinosaurs (http://www.mrfdigs.com).
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