Saturday science subject: Dakota the dinosaur mummy

— 12:06 PM on December 8, 2007

Dinosaur remains often come in fossilized form, but as Wired reports, scientists have been lucky enough to discover a dinosaur mummy that appears to be the most intact yet. The mummy, which weighs in at a healthy four tons (3.63 metric tons), is that of a 67-million-year-old plant-eating dinosaur known as a hadrosaur.

Nicknamed Dakota, the hadrosaur is one of only five naturally preserved dinosaur mummies ever discovered. Unlike previous dinosaur mummies, which typically involve skin impressions pressed into bones, Dakota's entire skin envelope appears to remain largely intact.

"The skin has been mineralized," said Manning. "It is an actual three-dimensional structure, backfilled with sediment."

The fidelity of the envelope, he said, raises the possibility that Dakota could contain other soft-tissue remnants, including muscles and organs.

Dakota's remains have already allowed researchers to make some interesting findings. For one, Wired says they found the hadrosaur's hindquarters were 25% larger than previously estimated, suggesting that the dinosaur could run at speeds of up to 28 mph (45 km/h). More interesting yet, Dakota's vertebrae were actually spaced 0.4" (1 cm) apart, whereas museums have commonly stacked them together. According to Phil Manning from the University of Manchester in the UK, the result "implies that scientists may have been underestimating the size of hadrosaurs and other dinosaurs."

Wired says the National Geographic Channel will air a documentary about the dinosaur's discovery tomorrow at 9 PM EST.

Update: As TR reader uclajd and this BBC News article point out, Dakota's remains have actually been fossilized into stone, despite the hadrosaur being dubbed a "mummy."

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