We often associate dinosaur fossils with old bones and teeth. But every now and then an exceptionally preserved specimen takes our breath away by its exquisite detail. Often referred to as “dinosaur mummies” because their skin impressions have been preserved, these fossils give us an even more dramatic window into the Mesozoic.
One of the most famous dinosaur mummies is on display in New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. This Edmontosaurus was baked in the sun where its soft tissues decayed but its skin became shrink-wrapped around its bones. This desiccated carcass was covered quickly by sediment, perhaps after being washed off a sandbar and into a stream. Once buried, the fossilization process began, leaving detailed impressions of the dinosaur’s scaly skin. In nearby display cases, visitors can glimpse sections of other hadrosaur skin impressions as well.
Another specimen, rumored to be even more spectacular, was purchased by the British Museum. On its way across the Atlantic, the ship carrying the treasure was caught up in the hostilities of the first World War, and sunk. The mummy may still be there, in its protective jacket, somewhere at the bottom of the ocean.
More recently, a Brachylophosaurus nicknamed Leonardo stunned scientists with its completeness:
There is also Dakota, another Edmontosaurus mummy that is exceptionally preserved. Many of these mummies are hadrosaurs, but the recent armored nodosaur discovery in Canada was nothing short of astounding. Looking like a Hollywood dragon, this beautifully detailed specimen features spikes, armor plating, and skin from the animal–allowing us to look at its face and, without much imagination, see the animal as it was in life. The nodosaur mummy is now on display at the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada.