November 23, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Dinosaur Skin Found, Possible Soft Tissue

A mostly-complete duck-billed Edmontosaurus dinosaur has been found in Montana, reported the Discovery Channel. A patch of skin from the hip was recovered. The team from North Carolina State University and Museum of Natural Sciences was very careful. They wanted to preserve any possible soft tissue, using techniques developed by Mary Schweitzer that last year revealed possible blood cells in a T. rex (11/11/2006). The traditional bone focus appears to be shifting:

“We’ve only been looking at one thing in the past, the dinosaur skeletal system, but we could learn so much more if we could study their circulatory system and other body systems,” Vince Schneider, curator of paleontology at the museum, told Discovery News.

Schweitzer’s lab will be examining the specimen in more detail. The skin fragment was preserved in three dimensions. The fossil was buried in “fine sandstone stream sediments,” the report claims.

Jim Gilchrist in The Scotsman commented on the rapid growth of dinosaur discoveries, saying we are entering a golden age of dinosaur hunting. He referred to the soft-tissue phenomenon, quoting Dr. Peter Dodson (U of Pennsylvania) calling it “staggering.”

Now that paleontologists are realizing more than bone can be preserved, the search is on for soft tissue. This is a burgeoning field to watch. Is it possible evolutionary bias toward millions of years hindered paleontologists from even considering the possibility of soft tissue?

A team member speculated that the area was “probably a large river delta that opened into an inland sea,” and that the creature “probably drowned crossing at high flow.” No marks of predators were found. Moreover, “Evidence also suggests a lush forest with hardwood vegetation and leafy plants once stood there,” the article states. Hadrosaurs and ceratopsians are large animals that were apparently well fed and content at this location when they perished. 

Exercise: if you are not convinced these behemoths were afraid of high water in a stream, think of another scenario for what might have happened.

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