“Dinosaur Mummy” an Extraordinarily Preserved Nodosaur With Skin & Guts Intact Found

In a groundbreaking discovery, paleontologists have unearthed an exquisitely preserved nodosaur fossil, providing an unprecedented glimpse into the physical characteristics of this ancient creature.

This specimen, discovered in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, is so well-preserved that it has been dubbed a “dinosaur mummy” due to its intact skin, armor, and even some internal organs.

The nodosaur, a herbivorous dinosaur that roamed the Earth approximately 110 million years ago, is displayed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

“Dinosaur Mummy” an Extraordinarily Preserved Nodosaur With Skin & Guts Intact Found

This extraordinary fossil offers a unique view of a dinosaur as it looked in life, rather than just a skeletal reconstruction. According to Caleb Brown, a researcher at the museum, “We don’t just have a skeleton; we have a dinosaur as it would have been”

What does it look like?

The unique preservation process retained not only the 3D shape of the Nodosaur but also the fine details of its skin including the skin pigmentation.

A reconstructed computer model depicts a ‘red head’ Nodosaur with armored spikes on the upper body and a relatively soft underbelly.

“Dinosaur Mummy” an Extraordinarily Preserved Nodosaur With Skin & Guts Intact Found

One lucky find

The exceptional preservation of this nodosaur can be attributed to a series of fortunate circumstances. Researchers believe that the dinosaur was swept away by a flood and carried out to sea, where it eventually sank to the ocean floor.

Over millions of years, minerals replaced the creature’s armor and skin, preserving its lifelike form. This process not only maintained the three-dimensional shape of the dinosaur but also retained details such as skin pigmentation.

Using mass spectrometry, scientists discovered that the nodosaur had a dark reddish-brown coloration on its upper body and lighter tones underneath, indicative of countershading—a natural camouflage technique.

Not an ordinary fossil

The significance of this discovery extends beyond the nodosaur itself. It provides crucial insights into the ecosystem and predator-prey dynamics of the Cretaceous period. The nodosaur’s heavy armor and countershading suggest it faced significant predation pressure, highlighting the formidable nature of Cretaceous predators. Brown noted, “Strong predation on a massive, heavily-armored dinosaur illustrates just how dangerous the dinosaur predators of the Cretaceous must have been”

Camouflage Capabilities: Analysis of the fossilized skin revealed that the Borealopelta markmitchelli had a reddish-brown coloration with countershading – a form of camouflage where the upper body is darker than the underside. This suggests that despite its armored exterior, the Borealopelta still relied on camouflage to avoid predators.

“Dinosaur Mummy” an Extraordinarily Preserved Nodosaur With Skin & Guts Intact Found

Lifestyle and Diet: The stomach contents of the Borealopelta markmitchelli provided clues about its diet. The presence of fossilized conifer needles and twigs indicates that this dinosaur was a herbivore, likely feeding on low-lying plants.

Armor Placement and Functionality: By studying the bones and the positioning of the armor plates, researchers were able to gain a better understanding of how the Borealopelta moved and how its armor functioned. The placement of the plates suggests that they offered protection from predators while also allowing for some degree of flexibility.

It took 7,000 hours of careful work

The meticulous excavation and preservation efforts behind this nodosaur find are equally remarkable. Discovered in 2011 by a heavy-machine operator, the fossil required over 7,000 hours of careful preparation before it was ready for display.

Mark Mitchell, a technician at the Royal Tyrell Museum, undertook this remarkable project and spent nearly 6 years (7,000 hours) meticulously uncovering the complete possible by carefully removing the stones around it.

“Dinosaur Mummy” an Extraordinarily Preserved Nodosaur With Skin & Guts Intact Found
Royal Tyrrell Museum technician Mark Mitchell prepping his namesake nodosaur Borealopelta markmitchellii. PHOTO BY GOVERNMENT OF ALBERTA /Supplied

For his extraordinary patience and efforts, the newly discovered species of nodosaur from the ankylosaur family was named after him – Borealopelta markmitchelli.

This extensive process underscores the dedication and expertise involved in paleontological research and the value of accidental discoveries in advancing scientific knowledge.

Other similar finds

In addition to the nodosaur, other recent finds have contributed to our understanding of dinosaur skin and preservation. For instance, in South Korea, paleontologists uncovered dinosaur footprints with exceptionally well-preserved skin impressions.

These tracks, left by the tiny theropod Minisauripus, are notable for their detailed skin texture, likened to medium-grade sandpaper. Such discoveries are rare, as less than one percent of dinosaur tracks show skin traces.

The optimal preservation conditions—muddy sediment followed by rapid burial—allowed these delicate details to be retained.

These findings collectively enhance our understanding of dinosaur biology and their environments. The detailed skin impressions from both the nodosaur and the Minisauripus tracks offer a rare glimpse into the physical attributes and behaviors of these ancient creatures.

As more such discoveries come to light, they continue to paint a richer, more accurate picture of life millions of years ago, bridging the gap between prehistoric times and the present day.