This Rare ‘Dinosaur Mummy’ Could Be the Best-Preserved Dino Fossil Ever Discovered!

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Dr. Brian Pickles of the University of Reading and Dr. Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum stand next to exposed fossils of a juvenile duck-billed dinosaur in Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta; Illustration of a juvenile hadrosaur by Julius Csotonyi (Melissa Dergousoff/University of Reading/Courtesy of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology)

Dr. Brian Pickles of the University of Reading and Dr. Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum stand next to exposed fossils of a juvenile duck-billed dinosaur in Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta; Illustration of a juvenile hadrosaur by Julius Csotonyi

(Melissa Dergousoff/University of Reading/Courtesy of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology)

When you think of mummies, you’re probably thinking dead bodies wrapped in layers upon layers of linen, resting comfortably in gigantic pyramids. And while this kind of mummification was carried out artificially by humans, Mother Nature has her own way of preserving the dead who weren’t fortunate enough to get proper burials.

According to the University of Reading, researchers from Canada have discovered a ‘dinosaur mummy’ lodged in a hillside in the Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta.

During a scouting visit led by Dr Brian Pickles of the University of Reading back in 2021, Teri Kaskie, who was volunteering at the international palaeontology field school, found a tail and foot sticking out of a hillock.

The specimen allegedly turned out to be a juvenile Hadrosaur — a duck-billed, plant-eating dinosaur — from the Late Cretaceous (77-75 million years ago), approximately 10 million years before dinosaurs went extinct.

A one-of-a-kind find

A diagram showing the hadrosaur fossils currently exposed and potential orientation of the animal’s skeleton if it is preserved within the rock (Courtesy of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology)

A diagram showing the hadrosaur fossils currently exposed and potential orientation of the animal’s skeleton if it is preserved within the rock

(Courtesy of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology)

Finding Hadrosaur remains at the Park was hardly surprising given that it’s among the world’s richest locations for dinosaur fossils and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to over 40 species of dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous and is a favourite for fossil hunters.

So what made this particular discovery stand out, you may ask. As per the Royal Tyrrell Museum (Canada’s dino museum), researchers have detailed the following peculiarities in the find:

  • The way the animal’s body parts are oriented indicate that perhaps the entire skeleton is still preserved within the hill. And such whole skeletons, which give essential insights into the animal’s overall appearance and anatomy, are incredibly rare.
  • Next, many of the exposed areas of the skeleton were covered in fossilised skin, suggesting that more preserved skin could be covering other parts of the skeleton currently protected within the rock. This makes it more mummy-like than any run-of-the-mill fossils.
  • Based on the tail and foot being relatively small, this is most likely a juvenile. And while duck-billed dinosaurs themselves are quite well represented in fossil records, such younger animals are much harder to come by. Thus, this find could help palaeontologists better understand the species’ growth and development.

“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. Which means, if we’re really lucky, then some of the other internal organs might have been preserved as well,” Dr Pickles told USA TODAY.

If the remains are in as good of shape as Pickles hopes, not only will the scientists be able to see what this juvenile’s last meal was, but it would also be one of the best preserved dinosaur fossils ever discovered!

Disentombing the Hadrosaur

As for how the animal got stuck there in the first place, Dr Pickles proposes two hypotheses. Either it likely died and immediately got covered by sand and silt in the river, or it was killed because a river bank fell onto it.

Either way, the Royal Tyrrell Museum team plans to dig out the specimen to install it in the museum and has already begun working on it.

The team began by covering the exposed fossils to safeguard them while they dug down from the top of the rock face to reach the fossil layer because the skeleton lies close to the base of a sizable rock face.

What lies ahead is the behemoth task of actually carving out the hill to get to the dinosaur. It can take several months, or possibly multiple field seasons, to collect the full skeleton, the Royal Tyrrell Museum reported.

When collected, the museum’s Preparation Lab will receive the fossil, where trained technicians will work on making the specimen presentable. They will assess the skeleton’s preservation, whether it is complete, and how much of the animal’s skin is still intact during the preparation procedure.

Further, there’s not nearly enough of the specimen to accurately predict which distinct species group of duck-billed dinosaur our juvenile belongs to. Pickles said that scientists would have to examine the skull, although considering the animal was still maturing at the time, the cranium may differ from anything previously described.

It could take several years to thoroughly prepare this specimen for research and presentation due to its size and state of preservation.

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