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Brachylophosaur "mummy"

Sorry if this has been reported already...




Move over, Ice Man. Scientists have found a 77-million-year-old dinosaur so
well preserved that they're calling it a "mummy."

Most of the leathery skin on this creature, discovered two summers ago in
Montana, is intact, though turned to mineral. Its throat and shoulder muscle
are still there. Its face retains traces of its nail-like beak. Its
discoverers even say it contains the remnants of its last meal, a
half-digested mass of plant material.

"Once in a blue moon we have an opportunity to get greater insight into
life's prehistory," says Nate Murphy, curator of paleontology at the
Phillips County Museum in Malta, Mont., where the fossil is being studied.
Murphy described the find this month at a news conference in Norman, during
the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting.

The creature was a duck-billed dinosaur known as Brachylophosaurus.

In life it would have been a two-legged, plant-eating animal that measured
about 20 feet (6.1 metres) long. It died while just three to four years old,
and is the first juvenile of this species ever found, Murphy says.

The young Brachylophosaurus may have died in an isolated place such as on a
sandbar, then dried out before becoming buried by sand, Murphy speculates.
That could have allowed the dinosaur to fossilise with much of its muscle
and other tissue intact.

Paleontologists occasionally find pieces of dinosaur-skin impressions, or
other soft tissue, but usually such features are lost when the dinosaur
turns to stone.

"All too rarely do paleontologists find more than bones and teeth," says K.
Christopher Beard, a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural
History, who was not involved in the work.

Often such discoveries are controversial. For instance, a North Carolina
dinosaur, once thought to have a fossilised heart intact inside its rib
cage, may contain nothing more than a rock.

Still, Murphy is confident that he has a scientific treasure.

Only a few such well-preserved dinosaurs have been found before, he says.
One is the dinosaur mummy discovered nearly a century ago that is at the
American Museum of Natural History in New York. Another belongs to a natural
history museum in Frankfurt, Germany.

A third dinosaur mummy was found in Alberta, Canada, but was sunk by the
Germans during World War I as it was being shipped to the British Museum,
Murphy says.

An amateur fossil hunter discovered the new specimen during an expedition to
Montana's Lower Judith River Formation in July 2000. Team leaders nicknamed
the dinosaur Leonardo, after one of a pair of lovers' names found scrawled
nearby with the date 1916, says team member Mark Thompson.

In 2001, the excavators removed the fossil in a single six-tonne block,
trying to preserve as much as possible.

Calling it a mummy is a bit misleading, Murphy says.

Unlike Egyptian human mummies, which were elaborately prepared after death,
the dinosaur underwent a rare series of natural circumstances to keep it

The team plans to study what allowed the fossil to stay so intact.