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“Leonardo” (Brachylophosaurus) ancora in mostra allo “Houston Museum of Natural Science”

Meet Leonardo, the dinosaur mummy


Sept. 30, 2008, 2:30PM

I was alone with Leonardo for at least a minute, when his entourage slipped into an adjacent room to see a chicken.

Leonardo’s local handler, Robert Bakker, who has known him since 2002, had said the meeting would be a moving experience because Leonardo is both vivid and eloquent.

And I did fall under Leonardo’s spell, awed both by his advanced age and his immense significance.

Leonardo, aka Brachylophosaurus canadensis, is a rock star in the world of paleontology. Although he may look like he is just sleeping, as Bakker points out, the 6-ton, duckbill dinosaur, complete with mummified soft tissue, has been dead for 77 million years. Bakker is curator of paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The museum, in association with the Judith River Foundation, has developed a world-premiere exhibition featuring Leonardo, the most completely fossilized plant-eating dinosaur yet discovered, with almost all of his skin, as well as bones and internal organs, intact. He is what Bakker refers to as an “inside-outside mummy.”

“He glows. He really does,” Bakker said. “The light penetrates the skin, which has an impression of scales and fine, golden sandstone. Visitors will see every wrinkle and scale popping in the light and then discover the internal organs of a creature that’s been dead for millions of years. “They will leave convinced that these animals were very much alive.”

So much for vividness. But how can the 77-million-year-old mummy of a duckbill dinosaur be eloquent?

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Studying the creature has been a revelation to paleontologists. Leonardo’s stomach contents, for example, speak volumes.

Before digital technology was applied to this particular mummy, paleontologists could only guess at the internal structure of a vegetarian giant like Leonardo. The data is still being analyzed, but much of what has been discovered so far has to do with what Leonardo ate, Bakker says.

“Inside the rib cage you can see his intestines and stomach and see what he was eating in the weeks before he died,” Bakker says.

“For 180 years, we have been saying that duckbills and their relatives were designed to shred the toughest vegetation in the world. Their teeth look like cow molars. They were made for pulverizing really tough plants.

“The biggest surprise is that science works. What we’ve been concluding from looking at the bones and the teeth was correct. He was designed to chop plants like a zebra or a wildebeest does. Leonardo was eating conifer needles and conifer bark, the toughest common plants in his world. By gum, we were right!”

Leonardo also swallowed a dusting of pollen from flowers, trees and shrubs, providing more clues to the nature of his environment.

Bakker says Leonardo’s cause of death is a mystery, but that he likely perished from natural causes.

“That’s a tough one. There are no wounds on his carcass. His intestines survived because something sealed him off so nothing ripped him up. It was probably a peaceful death on a sand bar in a river, then he was covered by a thick layer of sand. And then, he was mummified under layers of sediment.”

Although Leonardo is not the only duckbill dinosaur mummy with preserved skin, he is unique in retaining his innards.

“The first good one was found in 1908. It’s a fine mummy … but no insides,” Bakker says. “Leonardo is absolutely one-of-a-kind unique.”

Discovered in 2000 by a Judith River Foundation expedition on a cattle ranch north of Malta, Mont., Leonardo was named after graffiti on a nearby rock that read: “Leonard Webb loves Geneva Jordan 1916.”

Leonardo now belongs to the town of Malta, where he lives when he’s not on the road.

“I’ve watched kids in the museum in Malta, and some want to pet him,” Bakker says.

HMNS has constructed a life-size sculpture of Leonardo that people will be able to touch, since the mummy is protected by a glass case.

The exhibition features several other specimens including another duckbill named Peanut, a teenager that illustrates the species’ body structure; an ichthyosaur (or fish lizard) mummy, which has the contents of her intestines and four babies preserved inside her body; and the only mummified triceratops skin ever found, which will also be on display for the first time.



Where: Houston Museum of Natural Science, 1 Hermann Circle

When: Continues through Jan. 11

Tickets: $15, $12 for ages 3-11, $10 for ages 62 and older, and college students with a valid ID; $8 members; 713- 639-4629 or .


ottobre 1, 2008 - Posted by | - R. Dinosauri, Musei, P - Preservazione eccezionale, Paleontology / Paleontologia | , , , , , ,

1 commento »

  1. […] “Leonardo” (Brachylophosaurus) ancora in mostra allo “Houston Museum of Natural Science” […]

    Pingback di 2008-10-28 - Utah, USA: Nuovi interrogativi sulle mummie di dinosauro (Dinosaur mummies) « PaleonewsITA | ottobre 28, 2008


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