- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Using tiny brushes and chisels, workers picking at a big greenish-black rock in the basement of North Dakota’s state museum are meticulously uncovering something amazing: a nearly complete dinosaur, skin and all.

Unlike almost every other dinosaur fossil ever found, the Edmontosaurus named Dakota, a duckbilled dinosaur unearthed in southwestern North Dakota in 2004, is covered by fossilized skin that is hard as iron. It’s among just a few mummified dinosaurs in the world, say the researchers who are slowly freeing it from a 65-million-year-old rock tomb.

“This is the closest many people will ever get to seeing what large parts of a dinosaur actually looked like, in the flesh,” said Phillip Manning, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester in England, a member of the international team researching Dakota.

“This is not the usual disjointed sentence or fragment of a word that the fossil records offer up as evidence of past life. This is a full chapter.”

Animal tissue typically decomposes quickly after death. Researchers say Dakota must have been buried rapidly and in just the right environment for the texture of the skin to be preserved.

“The process of decay was overtaken by that of fossilization, preserving many of the soft-tissue structures,” Mr. Manning said.

Tyler Lyson, a 25-year-old doctoral paleontology student at Yale University, discovered the dinosaur on his uncle’s ranch in the Badlands in 1999. Weeks after he started to unearth the fossil in 2004, he knew he had found something special.

“Usually all we have is bones,” Mr. Lyson said. “In this special case, we’re not just after the bones; we’re after the whole carcass.”

Stephen Begin, a Michigan consultant on the project, said this is the fifth dinosaur mummy ever found that is “of any significance.”

“It may turn out to be one of the best mummies, because of the quality of the skin that we’re finding and the extent of the skin that’s on the specimen,” he said.

Mr. Begin said other dinosaurs with fossilized skin have been unearthed around the world, but only a handful have enough skin to be of use for research and in most cases the skin was considered to be of lesser importance. “The goal was to get bones to put on display,” he said.

Dakota was moved to the museum early last month and is currently surrounded by precariously perched desk lamps and a machine to suck up dust. State paleontologist John Hoganson, of the North Dakota Geological Survey, said it will take a year to uncover it.

Mr. Hoganson said the main part of the fossil is in two parts, weighing a total of nearly 5 tons.

“The skeleton itself is kind of curled up,” he said. “The actual length would be about 30 feet, from about the tip of its tail to the tip of its nose.”

The fossil has spawned both a children’s book and an adult book, as well as National Geographic television programs. The National Geographic Society is funding much of the research.

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