Saturday, September 13, 2008

Secrets of the Dinosaur Mummy - Sept. 13, 2008



Mummy dearest

After 40 years of digging for dinosaurs,
Dr. Robert Bakker thought he had seen
everything. Then, he got to meat Leonardo.

By Eric Kohanik

As far as scientific discoveries go, Leonardo was pretty well a paleontologist’s dream come true.

In fact, he was the ultimate dream come true.

Leonardo is a 77-million-year-old dinosaur that was discovered in Montana about eight years ago. What made him so different, though, was that this dinosaur was almost fully intact. In fact, 90 per cent of his mummified body was still covered by skin.

Leonardo was a young Brachylophosaurus – a four-legged, plant-eating, duck-billed dinosaur who was only about three or four years old when he died. But his discovery has led to completely new hypotheses o fhow dinosaurs lived.

Leonardo gave paleontologists the chance to come up with the first reconstruction of a giant dinosaur that was absolutely accurate, both on the outside and on the inside. All of which has made him the most important dinosaur discovery in history.

After about 40 years of digging for dinosaurs, Dr. Robert Bakker thought he had pretty well seen everything. Of course, that was before Bakker – known as “the high priest of paleontology” – met Leonardo.

That story is part of what lies at the core of Secrets of the Dinosaur Mummy, a new Discovery Channel special that Bakker likes to describe as “sort of ER meets CSI meets Jurassic Park – but funny.”

Almost as intriguing as the story of Leonardo’s discovery is the story of what made the discovery possible – “the CSI part,” as Bakker refers to it.
“The CSI part, to me, is the most puzzling,” he explained to reporters in Los Angeles back in July. “I look at Leonardo and want to understand how it died. And how was it buried? And how was the corpse preserved? How was it protected from all the scavengers that like to burrow in and eat it?” Secrets of the Dinosaur Mummy uses dramatic re-creations and computer animation to answer many of those questions and to retrace much of Leonardo’s story – everything from what killed him to even what he ate just before he died.

“This is really the specimen that’s going to change paleontology,” proclaims Michael Jorgensen, the producer who wrote and directed the hour-long high-definition TV special. “It’s a new dividing line in the sand. I really believe, after this, it will be sort of ‘pre-‘ and ‘post-Leonardo’ because now we have not just the bones. Now, we have an entire body."

In the end, though, Secrets of the Dinosaur Mummy only scratches the surface of the forensic investigation of Leonardo. As one of the program’s experts points out, the story of Leonardo is far from over.

In fact, if Secrets of the Dinosaur Mummy proves anything, it’s that this is a story that is only just beginning.

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