Dinosaur Mummy Goes Under The Scanner

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Dinosaur mummy goes under the scanner, according to reports in Manchester University News, BBC News, Reuters 3 Dec 2007 and ABC News in Science, 4 Dec 2007. In 2000 Tyler Lyson found the remains of a dinosaur on a family property in North Dakota. The dinosaur, a Hadrosaur dated as being 67 million years old, was so well preserved it was called a “mummy” because it has preserved skin, muscle tendons and other soft tissues as well as bones. However, the dinosaur is actually a fossil, rather than a mummy, as it has been buried and mineralised, like most other fossils.

The Hadrosaur is between 7 and 9 metres (23 -30 ft) long and is being studied by a team of researchers led by University of Manchester palaeontologist Phil Manning. Because it is so large, its internal structure is being studied using an enormous CT scanner operated by Boeing, usually used for analysing aircraft and spacecraft parts. So far the results have revealed that its back end has a greater muscle mass than previously estimated and locomotor biologist Bill Sellers of Manchester University has developed a computer programme to reconstruct how it moved.

Hadrosaurs are usually depicted as standing and walking upright, but Seller's analysis indicates it walked with its head low to the ground, and could run at speeds up to 28 mph (45 kpm). The scan also revealed the vertebral bones had a gap of about one cm (half inch) between them. Most reconstructions of dinosaurs in museums have the bones packed more closely than this, which means some estimates of dinosaur length may be up to a metre short. The fossilised skin has lost its colour but shows some variations in the scales that indicate it had a striped pattern on the skin. The fossil is believed have been preserved when acidic waterlogged sediments collected around it after it died in a river bed. The claw of a crocodile was found with the fossil.

ABC, BBC

Editorial Comment: To preserve a 7 - 9 metre dinosaur with the muscle mass of this creature would require more than just the accumulation of acidic riverbed sediments to preserve it so well. Such good preservation indicates it was rapidly and deeply buried so that oxygen and microbes could not break down the soft tissues. The revised estimates of length and muscle mass remind us that there is only so much we can guess from bones alone, and it is important to remember this when you see computer generated lifelike images presented in the same way as images of real living creatures. Whilst there is nothing wrong with making educated guesses, it is important not to confuse actual evidence with stories made up about the evidence. (Ref. preservation, x-rays, biomechanics. locomotion)

Evidence News 12 Dec 2007

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