This sumptuous dinosaur fossil sleeps in its egg like a little bird

An international team of researchers has just published its findings on an exceptional fossil that almost fell into oblivion.

Paleontology is a particularly demanding discipline, which often involves looking for an unknown needle in a haystack on the scale of a continent. But sometimes, thanks to solid preliminary studies and a good dose of luck, certain specialists manage to unearth simply exceptional objects. This is the case with researchers at the University of Birmingham; they unearthed a dinosaur embryo fossil in an astounding state of preservation despite being 66 million years old.

This is an extremely rare piece, because baby dinosaurs are extremely fragile, and there are therefore very few fossilized ones. “It is an incredible specimen”, Breathes Darla Selenitsky, professor of geosciences at the University of Calgary and co-author of the study. “I’ve worked on dinosaur eggs for 25 years, but I’ve never seen anything like it”, She enthuses.

© Xing et. al.

However, this object discovered on a mining operation in China almost fell into oblivion. Since it was collected in 2000 in Jiangxi – an area famous for its incredible fossil veins – it has spent years in an obscure reserve; the potential of this hidden treasure has not been identified only ten years later, by chance, on the occasion of an inventory preceding the construction of a natural history museum. Since then, it has been meticulously analyzed by researchers. And there was so much information to learn as their research paper has just been published, more than ten years later.

From raptor to raptor

The authors describe a “beautifully preserved embryo in its egg”, Far from other specimens of this type which are usually“incomplete and disarticulated”. This phenomenal state of conservation allowed researchers to identify a deep, toothless skull, three-toed legs and a hollow skeleton; enough to classify it among the oviraptorosaurs, a group of bipeds quite similar to current birds.

The researchers were also able to analyze the posture of the embryo in the egg; they then found that he was lying on his side with his head tucked back against his body. A position which again recalls the current birds; on the other hand, it had never before been observed in this group of dinosaurs.

© Xing et. al.

This is a particularly interesting detail for researchers. Because until now, specialists considered that this peculiarity had appeared quite recently in modern birds. This observation makes shatter this hypothesis, but could well clear of new avenues of research; the authors of the study suggest that this fossil could harbor capital clues to the evolutionary history of dinosaurs. A good opportunity to learn more about the selection process that led to the appearance of modern birds.

But for that, it will be necessary to analyze other fossils of comparable animals and dating from the same time. And we will not have to rely on this team of researchers to tackle it anytime soon. Not that they are lazy, on the contrary; they wish first finish studying this incredible specimen who is still far from having revealed all his secrets. It will take them several months or even years to submit it to all modern imaging techniques, and even more to interpret the results. We will have to be patient!

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