Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dino Mummy

National Geographic Channel Unearths Partially Intact Dinosaur Mummy World Premiere Special Dino Autopsy Opens New Window to Dinosaur Evolution

“It is quite fair to say that our dinosaur mummy [Dakota] makes many other dinosaurs look like road kill.” --Dr. Phillip Manning, Palaeontologist, the University of Manchester

National Geographic Channel uncovers the Holy Grail of palaeontology in the United States: a partially intact dino mummy. Named Dakota, this 67-million-year-old dinosaur is one of the most important dinosaur discoveries in recent times — calling into question our conception of dinosaurs’ body shape, skin preservation and movement.

On Sunday, December 9, at 9 p.m. ET/10 p.m. PT, Dino Autopsy joins top palaeontologists in the United States as they uncover the rocky tomb of one of the most complete dino mummies ever found. Whereas most of our understanding of dinosaurs is based on fossilized skeletal remains, this specimen includes an uncollapsed skin envelope on many parts of the body and limbs that offers a degree of insight impossible from just bone structure. With the use of a giant CT scanner provided by the Boeing Company, scientists attempt to peer inside this preserved body and tail in one of the largest CT scans ever attempted. Will this dino mummy alter our conception of dinosaurs’ body shape, skin texture and movement? And how was this dinosaur astonishingly preserved?

“It is quite fair to say that our dinosaur mummy [Dakota] makes many other dinosaurs look like road kill. Simply 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 Dr. Phillip Manning, palaeontologist, the University of Manchester.

Nearly everything we know of dinosaurs comes from bones and teeth, usually the only tissue durable enough to fossilize. But unlike most previous fossil finds, Dakota has survived millions of years nearly intact, with fossilized skin and tendons, allowing us to reconstruct major muscle sizes, and with many body parts in place, offering a tantalizing glimpse of a 3-D dinosaur.

Hear the story of the discovery of Dakota by teenaged Tyler Lyson on his family’s land in North Dakota. And then join palaeontologist Dr. Phil Manning and his team of scientists from the University of Manchester, working with Tyler and his team of volunteers as they struggle to unearth the tomb, bringing us closer to understanding how this dinosaur really looked and moved and whose fossil remains survived through the sands of time.

Dakota is first transported to the Black Hills Institute in the United States, where he is revealed to be a Hadrosaur, more commonly called a duck-billed dinosaur. A team of scientists in the United Kingdom then test skin samples, examining the fossilized skin to determine how Dakota might have looked and measuring muscle mass to determine how he might have moved.

With the aid of a giant Boeing CT scanner, we attempt to peer inside Dakota’s preserved body and tail. A technology usually reserved for testing aircraft and spacecraft parts for NASA, a scan of the 8,000-lb. body will be one of the largest ever attempted. What will the scans reveal? Could they change our understanding of Hadrosaurs forever?

In fact, Dakota may contribute some significant findings to the field of palaeontology, altering our comprehension of how dinosaurs looked and moved. The Hadrosaur’s backside appears to be 25 percent larger than previously thought; a surprising conclusion that could change our image of the dinosaur for the last 150 years. With a larger backside, the Hadrosaur would have been able to reach top speeds of 45 kilometers an hour – 16 kilometers faster than the T. Rex. The skin envelope also shows evidence that the Hadrosaur may have been striped and not block colored, producing an almost striped camouflage pattern on some parts of the dinosaur.

With its body so well preserved, researchers are able to more accurately estimate the spacing between vertebrae. While most museums, have the dinosaur bones stacked tightly against each other, Dr. Manning’s research suggests that the vertebrae should be stacked approximately one centimeter apart. This could mean that some dinosaurs are at least one meter longer than previously thought.

The National Geographic Society partly funded analysis of the mummified dinosaur, including the CT scanning of the fossil. Scientific papers based on study of the dinosaur are in progress.

Accompanying the release of Dino Autopsy is an adult book, “Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs: Soft Tissues and Hard Science,” by Dr. Phillip Manning, published by National Geographic Books; and a children’s book, “DinoMummy: The Life, Death, and Discovery of Dakota, a Dinosaur From Hell Creek,” authored by Manning with an introduction by Tyler Lyson, available in bookstores December 4 from Kingfisher.

Dino Autopsy is produced by National Geographic Television (NGT) for National Geographic Channel. Producer and writer is Chad Cohen. Additional producers are Jenny Kubo and French Horwitz. Editors are Emmanuel Mairesse and Mike Harvey. For NGC, executive producer is Noah Morowitz, and senior vice president of special programming is Michael Cascio.

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