"Long before it's in the papers"
January 28, 2015


Dino “mummy” has skin turned to stone

Dec. 3, 2007
Courtesy National Geographic Society
and World Science staff

A newly un­veiled “di­nosaur mum­my” is one of the best-pre­served of the an­cient rep­tiles found to da­te, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers—who say this one may have had stripes and the abil­ity to out­run fear­some T. rex.

The fossilized skin of "Dakota." (Courtesy Nat'l Geographic Society)

Sci­en­tists on Mon­day an­nounced a pre­lim­i­nary anal­y­sis of the 67-mil­lion-year-old duck-billed di­no­saur, with mus­cles and bones pre­served in large, in­tact seg­ments of skin. 

“This spec­i­men ex­ceeds the jack­pot,” ex­cava­t­ion lead­er Phil­lip Man­ning, a pa­le­on­tol­o­gist at the Un­ivers­ity of Man­ches­ter, U.K., said in the on­line edi­tion of Na­t­ional Ge­o­graph­ic mag­a­zine Mon­day.

The Na­t­ional Ge­o­graph­ic Chan­nel is to air a spe­cial on the ex­cava­t­ion, “Dino Au­top­sy,” on Dec. 9. The chan­nel and mag­a­zine are owned by the Na­t­ional Ge­o­graph­ic So­ci­e­ty, which funded the re­search.

“Our di­no­saur mum­my makes many oth­er di­no­saurs look like road kill… be­cause the ev­i­dence we’re get­ting from our crea­ture is so com­plete com­pared to the dis­joint­ed sort of skele­tons that we usu­ally have to draw con­clu­sions from,” said Man­ning.

Nearly eve­ry­thing we know of di­no­saurs comes from bones and teeth, usu­ally the only parts hard enough to fos­sil­ize. But this crea­ture, dubbed Da­ko­ta, sur­vived nearly in­tact, Man­ning con­tin­ued. That al­lows sci­en­tists to re­con­struct ma­jor mus­cle sizes, of­fer­ing a tan­ta­liz­ing glimpse of a 3-D di­no­saur.

Da­ko­ta may al­ter our un­der­stand­ing of how di­no­saurs looked and moved, he added. Its back­side, he said, seems to be 25 per­cent larg­er than pre­vi­ously thought, sug­gest­ing it could have run 45 kilo­me­ters (28 miles) an hour—50 per­cent faster than T. rex. The skin al­so shows ev­i­dence of a pos­sibly striped cam­ou­flage pat­tern in some ar­eas, re­search­ers said. A pattern of band­ing was found in the larg­er and smal­ler scales, some­thing that in mod­ern rep­tiles is often as­sociated with co­lor pat­terns, Man­ning ex­plained.

One of a group of plant-eating di­no­saurs known as had­ro­saurs, Da­ko­ta was dis­cov­ered in 1999 by then-teenage pa­le­on­tol­o­gist Tyl­er Lyson on his fam­i­ly’s North Da­ko­ta prop­er­ty. It was not “mum­mi­fied” in the sense of King Tut, but in the sense that min­er­al pro­cesses turned large tracts of its body in­to stone be­fore bac­te­ria ate it.

“What usu­ally would have been wiped out by the de­cay pro­cess—the min­er­al­iz­a­tion has been so rap­id that it is trapped and pre­served,” Man­ning told the mag­a­zine. Had­ro­saurs had horny, tooth­less beaks but hun­dreds of teeth in their cheeks and a long, stiff tail that was likely used for bal­ance. Sci­en­tif­ic pa­pers based on study of the di­no­saur are in prog­ress, re­search­ers said.

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A newly unveiled “dinosaur mummy” is one of the best-preserved of the ancient reptiles found to date, according to researchers—who say this one may have had stripes and the ability to outrun fearsome T. rex. Scientists on Monday announced a preliminary analysis of the 67-million-year-old duck-billed dinosaur, with muscles and bones preserved in large, intact segments of skin. “This specimen exceeds the jackpot,” excavation leader Phillip Manning, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester, U.K., said in the online edition of National Geographic magazine Monday. The National Geographic Channel is to air a special on the excavation, called Dino Autopsy, on Dec. 9. The channel and magazine are owned by the National Geographic Society, which funded the research. “Our dinosaur mummy makes many other dinosaurs look like road kill… because the evidence we’re getting from our creature is so complete compared to the disjointed sort of skeletons that we usually have to draw conclusions from,” said Manning. Nearly everything we know of dinosaurs comes from bones and teeth, usually the only parts hard enough to fossilize. But this creature, dubbed Dakota, survived nearly intact, Manning continued. That allows scientists to reconstruct major muscle sizes, offering a tantalizing glimpse of a 3-D dinosaur. Dakota may alter our understanding of how dinosaurs looked and moved, he added. Its backside, he said, seems to be 25 percent larger than previously thought, suggesting it could have run 45 kilometers (28 miles) an hour—50 percent faster than T. Rex. The skin also shows evidence of a possibly striped camouflage pattern in some areas, researchers said. One of a group of plant-eating dinosaurs known as hadrosaurs, Dakota was discovered in 1999 by then-teenage paleontologist Tyler Lyson on his family’s North Dakota property. It was not “mummified” in the sense of King Tut, but in the sense that mineral processes turned large tracts of its body into stone before bacteria ate it. “What usually would have been wiped out by the decay process—the mineralization has been so rapid that it is trapped and preserved,” Manning told the magazine. Hadrosaurs had horny, toothless beaks but hundreds of teeth in their cheeks and a long, stiff tail that was likely used for balance. Scientific papers based on study of the dinosaur are in progress, researchers said.