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Perfectly Preserved Dinosaur Fossil Uncovered in China

Credit: Carine Ciselet/Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

Volcanic ash left these samples in pristine condition.

If you recall the story of Pompeii and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, people, animals, and objects caught in the crossfire were petrified and preserved nearly perfectly. Creepy? Incredibly! But useful for scientific study. However, Vesuvius wasn’t the only instance of a volcanic eruption leaving behind tangible evidence, at least based on a newly uncovered dinosaur fossil.

Chinese paleontologists searching the Lujiatun Beds in China’s Liaoning Province discovered a new species of ornithopod fossil believed to date back as far as 125 million years. Fossils are a big deal on their own, but what makes this particular fossil fascinating is that it’s almost perfectly preserved in volcanic rock. Researchers have hypothesized that the Lujiatun Beds may have played host to a massive volcanic eruption and landslide, leaving cretaceous animals buried in their burrows underneath. Again, super creepy, but it at least teaches us something about the cretaceous period.

The new species has been named Changmiania liaoningensis, deriving from the Chinese word “Changmian,” meaning “eternal sleep.” Based on its skeletal structure, the Changmiania is presumed to have been an especially fast runner, not to mention a very talented burrower, sort of like the dinosaur equivalent of a rabbit.

Credit: Yuqing Yang

“Its neck and forearms are very short but robust, its shoulder blades are characteristic of burrowing vertebrates and the top of its snout is shaped like a shovel,” explained palaeontologist Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

This particular sample of Changmiania likely kept a deep burrow beneath the Lufiatun Beds, and when the eruption came flowing, the top of the burrow was quickly sealed off. Based on its curled posture, the Changmiania was probably sleeping at the time.

The full study on the sample has been published and is available on scientific journal PeerJ.