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A Look at a Dinosaur Mummy

Scientists in North Dakota find well-preserved fossil with skin and scales.

ByABC News
December 4, 2007, 3:15 PM

Dec. 4, 2007 — -- The world of 65 million years ago is filled with mystery, especially because scientists have little to go on but bones.

But buried in a remote corner of North Dakota was a remarkably well-preserved dinosaur with fossilized skin, ligaments and tendons. You can even see scales on its side.

The specimen turned out to be a duck-billed plant eater called a hadrosaur.

Tyler Lyson, the young scientist who found the fossil, said, "The skin hadn't collapsed in around the bone, and at that point I knew that we had a 3-D dinosaur mummy. I was absolutely thrilled."

Lyson is currently pursuing his doctorate in paleontology at Yale University and founded the Marmarth Research Foundation, an organization dedicated to the excavation, preservation and study of dinosaurs.

Technically, the specimen is not a mummy; there is no preserved flesh. But most fossils are only of bone. The hadrosaur had much more.

Why is it important to find one so complete? Because bones don't tell you what the animal really looked like. Imagine if you found elephant bones, but you'd never seen a living one.

Matt Lamanna of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History said, "There's no skeletal indication, or at least very little skeletal indication of one of the most characteristic features of an elephant, the long trunk."

The hadrosaur has now been analyzed by a giant CT scanner, which showed it had surprisingly large hindquarters. That means that it was probably very fast -- even able to outrun the notorious Tyrannosaurus rex.

Patterns in those scales also suggest the hadrosaur had stripes along its tail -- perhaps to blend with the foliage.

Phil Manning, the chief researcher of this project at the University of Manchester said, "This possibly indicates that we had almost a striped camouflage pattern on some parts of our animal, which is very exciting."

The scientists nicknamed their friend "Dakota." Lyson said it's yielding ancient secrets.