September 15, 2022 | David F. Coppedge

Dinosaur Skin Dazzles Scientists

Skin of a juvenile hadrosaur emerges from a hillside
in Canada; is it really 78 million years old?

 

‘Dinosaur mummy’: Researchers believe they found one of the best preserved dinosaurs ever (USA Today, 13 Sept 2022).

Researchers from Australia, Canada and the UK are both shocked and delighted at seeing fossilized skin from a dinosaur. Mummified skin of what they believe is part of a foot and the tail of a juvenile hadrosaur was poking out of a hillside in front of them. A photo in the article shows paleontologists Brian Pickle and Caleb Brown standing beside the fossil sticking out of an eroding hillside.

“It’s hard to imagine. This animal died 76 million years ago. It’s been perfectly preserved since then and it just happened to be just starting to erode out of this cliff when we were walking by,” Pickles said.

That is indeed hard to imagine. But according to the evolutionary timeline, dinosaurs went extinct 65 million Darwin Years ago, and for reasons known only to experts, this one must have died 10 million Darwin Years before that.

Diagram by Caleb Brown of the potential remains of the hadrosaur (Royal Tyrrell Museum via USA Today)

Already the details are exceptionally preserved. And the researchers have good reason to think the rest of the dinosaur is still inside the cliff. If so, it may prove to be “one of the best preserved dinosaur fossils ever discovered.” Perhaps even the stomach contents will be found, shedding light on the animal’s last meal.

“It’s so well preserved you can see the individual scales, we can see some tendons and it looks like there’s going to be skin over the entire animal,” Brian Pickles, a paleontologist and ecology professor at the University of Reading, told USA TODAY. “Which means, if we’re really lucky, then some of the other internal organs might have preserved as well.

Detail of mummified skin of hadrosaur with scales intact. (Royal Tyrrell Museum)

A close-up photo of the mummified skin shows some brownish-red color. The article does not say if original tissue has been found. The circumstances of its burial, though, are not hard to guess: it was buried rapidly.

“This animal probably either died and then immediately got covered over by sand and silt in the river,” Pickles said. “Or it was killed because a river bank fell onto it.

Live Science adds that some 400 to 500 dinosaur skeletons or skulls have been found in the area. Why did they all perish and get buried here?

It will take a year to carefully extract the fossil. Then it will be transported to the Royal Tyrrell Museum for study and eventual display to the public along with another mummified dinosaur found a few years ago.

Other Dinosaur News

Dinosaurs came in all sizes. A housecat-size dinosaur with spikes on the back of its head was found in Argentina last month, reported Phys.org on Aug 17th. In Portugal, bones of a sauropod were found that could be the largest ever found in Europe (Phys.org, Aug 29th). The small one is said to be 94 to 97 million years old, and the big one “around 150 million years” old. A bird-hipped Lethosaurus found in South Africa, though, beat them all at 190 million years old (Phys.org, Aug 25th).

The African specimen had some story to tell. It was considered rare in its ecosystem, but was found in “a bed of at least 17 Lesothosaurus specimens clustered together, which all appear to have been buried at the same time.” So does the picture change of its lifestyle being “abundant and quite sociable” or did some unusual event bury them all together? The tale now is that “herds of Lethosaurus may have formed to protect themselves against predators.” And yet the remains were found in a bone bed “with parts of many skeletons jumbled and packed tightly together.”

Those who remember the Paluxy River’s fame for dinosaur footprints in Texas will take note of new footprints uncovered in the riverbed due to the drought. Tracks of a sauropod that must have stood 60 feet tall and weighed 44 tons came to light, reported CNN on August 23rd. The experts say it made those tracks 113 million years ago (see photo), and yet they have been underwater for as long as this river has flowed over them, and will probably be underwater again when the rains return.

It takes a monster-sized faith to believe that the Alberta dinosaur waited 78 million years encased in a cliff, then “happened to be just starting to erode” when modern paleontologists walked by. Stuff Happens in evolution, we know.

The worldview of researchers often determines what they see. They cannot see millions of years; they just believe that. But they do see unmistakably well-preserved skin that somehow escaped bioturbation and decay since it was buried. Is it plausible to think it has been there, undisturbed, for vastly more time than scientists have ever observed? Will they “see” other creatures that were buried with this dinosaur, if they shouldn’t be there, like shells or fish? Will they see soft tissue? This will be a fossil to watch. It looks like it was buried recently, perhaps in the Biblical Flood. That makes it less of a miracle that it would show up now when the paleontologists walked by.

As remains of these varied and cosmopolitan beasts continue being found, the discoverers do consider some new questions, like the one about the social habits of the ones packed together in South Africa. But some questions are never asked by the evolutionary paleontologists. Why are so many found packed together in what are acknowledged to be flood deposits? Why does soft tissue remain? Why do they appear abruptly in the fossil record without transitional forms? Why were the remains not destroyed by geological events and bioturbation? Are the millions of years even real?

 

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