It might be easier to “mummify” ancient dinosaurs than scientists think.
Healed bite marks on the skin of fossilized dinosaurs suggest the carcass was an animal before it was covered in sediment, researchers report Oct. 12. PLOS ONE. The discovery challenges the traditional belief that burial is required soon after death for dinosaur “mummies” to return to their natural form.
A new research center in Dakota, an Edmontosaurus Fossil unearthed in North Dakota in 1999. About 67 million years ago, Dakota was about 12 meters long, a duck-billed dinosaur that ate plants. Today, Dakota’s fossilized limbs and tails still contain large areas of well-preserved, scaly, fossilized skin, a remarkable example of dinosaur “mummification.”
The mother is not a true soul, because her skin is turned into a rock, rather than being preserved by the skin itself. Researchers point to such fossils with skin and other soft tissues as exquisitely preserved as a mummy.
In 2018, paleontologist Clint Boyd from the North Dakota Geological Survey in Bismarck and colleagues began a new era of cleaning and examining dinosaur fossils. The team found what looked like tears in the skin of the tail and puncture holes in the animal’s right foot. To find out what could make the skin marks, the researchers teamed up with Stephanie Drumheller, a paleontologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, to remove extraneous rock material around the marks.
The holes in the skin — especially those on the front limb — are close to bite wounds from prehistoric relatives of modern-day crocodiles, researchers say. “This is the first time it’s been seen in the soft tissues of dinosaurs,” says Drumheller.
Because the marks on the tail are larger than those on the front limb, the team thinks there are at least two carnivores on the side. Edmontosaurus corpse, probably scavengers because the wounds were not healing. But scavenging does not fit into the traditional view of mummification.
This assumption of quick burial has been baked into the mummy development for some time,” says Drumheller. That was clearly not Dakota’s case. If the scavengers spend enough time searching his body, the dead dino has been out in the open for some time.
Noticing Dakota’s envelope of deflated skin, wrapped around the base of the mouth without pulling back muscle or other organs, Drumheller says had an unexpected “eureka moment.” “I’ve seen something like this before. It just wasn’t in the paleontological literature. It was in the forensic literature.”
While some of the smaller, newer scavengers like raccoons feed on the entrails of the larger carcass, the scavengers plunder the carcass of the carcass. Forensic research has shown that this hole allows all gases and fluids to escape from further decomposition, allowing the rest of the skin to dry out. It could happen after the burial.
Researchers are “doing the best thing,” says Raymond Rogers, a researcher at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., who studies how organisms decay and fossilize and is not involved in research. “It is highly unlikely that a corpse would achieve advanced stages of desiccation and also experience rapid burial. These two generally assumed requirements for mummification seem to be somewhat contradictory.”
Fossilization of soft tissues – such as skin or brains or the fleshy crest of the head – is unusual, but not unheard of.SN: 8/20/21; SN: 12/12/13). “Yes [soft tissue] it takes some spectacular confluence of weird events to completely bury it, it’s far more common than you’d think if it was the case,” says Drumheller. Perhaps, then, we could explain the fate of the mummy from a common corpse.
But while the dry, “jerkylike” skin could have been buried for quite a long time, the conditions involved are not necessary, says Evan Thomas Saitta, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago who was not involved in the study.
“However, I suspect that this very process is a very precise series of events where, if you get really bad, you stop being a mummified dinosaur,” he said.
A sense of that order of things, and how common it is, requires the remaining of how the fossils proceed after the mother’s burial. This is an area of research that Boyd says he will look into in the future.
“Is the process of fossilization the same as that of bones?” he asks “Do we even need different geochemical conditions for skin to fossilize?”
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