Dynamite isn’t typically a tool you’d use when discovering a dinosaur, but using the explosive to clear bedrock recently allowed a team of Chinese construction workers to discover a new species of feathered dinosaur believed to live between 66 and 72 million years ago.
The discovery, reported Thursday by National Geographic, came at the site of a school being build near Ganzhou in southern Jiangxi, China and would have gone unnoticed had builders not turned to dynamite in order to clear away bedrock so that they could continue with their work.
The specimen was preserved nearly intact (except for a little bit of damage from the blast), and the new species has been named Tongtianlong limosus, which literally translates to “muddy dragon on the road to heaven,” the researchers said. It was found lying on its front with its wings and its neck outstretched, and is believed to have died in that pose after being trapped in the mud.
“This new dinosaur is one of the most beautiful, but saddest, fossils I’ve ever seen,” Dr. Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, co-author of a paper detailing the discovery published online this week in the journal Scientific Reports, said in a statement.
“We’re lucky that the ‘Mud Dragon’ got stuck in the muck, because its skeleton is one of the best examples of a dinosaur that was flourishing during those final few million years before the asteroid came down and changed the world in an instant,” added Dr. Brusatte, who worked with researchers from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences on the study.
Newfound species had been diversifying before becoming extinct
According to the researchers, Tongtianlong limosus belonged to a family of feathered dinosaurs known as oviraptorosaurs. The creature had two-legs, short heads, sharp beaks, and a crest made of bone on its head that was likely used to intimidate rivals and/or attract potential mates.
Recent discoveries suggest that these dinosaurs, which were flightless, had likely experienced a population boost and was an increase in diversification during the 15 million years before it and other dinosaurs became extinct. It is believed to have been one of the last dinosaurs groups to do so before an asteroid impact wiped out all non-bird dinosaurs some 66 million years ago.
“They were diversifying during those few million years before the asteroid hit,” Dr. Brusatte said to National Geographic on Thursday. “They are a sign that dinosaurs were still doing well at this time, still making new species, still dominating ecosystems.” While these creatures evolved from meat-eaters, they had lost all of their teeth and were likely omnivorous, he added.
The remains were well-preserved and are nearly complete, the study authors said, and perhaps surprisingly, the fossils reportedly suffered little damage, despite the fact that they were found only due to the use of dynamite to clear away the bedrock. Given the circumstances surrounding the find, Dr. Brusatte told Nat Geo that he was thrilled to still have a quality specimen.
“You can actually see near the fossil where some of the dynamite was placed, and that dynamite did destroy part of the back end of the animal. But without the dynamite,” he told the website, “it never would have been exposed.” He called it “a stark example of the fine line between finding a whole new species of dinosaur and never knowing that this species existed.”
Image credit: Zhou Chuang
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