July 17, 2024

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Giant dinosaur skeleton discovered in US state: ‘Incredibly unusual’ 30ft Cretaceous beast almost intact in ‘rare’ 80m-year-old find

Giant dinosaur skeleton discovered in US state: ‘Incredibly unusual’ 30ft Cretaceous beast almost intact in ‘rare’ 80m-year-old find

About 85 percent of the most complete dinosaur fossil ever discovered in Mississippi, which state officials have described as “incredibly extraordinary,” remains buried since its discovery in 2007.

Paleontologists have confirmed that the specimen was once a living dinosaur: a family of duck-billed, plant-eating dinosaurs that existed more than 82 million years ago.

But hadrosaurs are a large family of herbivorous giants — including at least 61 individual species identified, with potentially hundreds of unique species that once roamed the Earth, according to experts.

Researchers were able to obtain parts of the specimen’s spine, parts of its forearm, feet and pelvic bones, but the rest of the specimen proved difficult to extract from its location outside Booneville in the northeastern part of the state.

“This thing has been sitting on hold for a while because we didn’t have anyone to work on it,” admitted state geologist James Starnes.

Hadrosaurs are a large family of giant, plant-eating dinosaurs — including at least 61 individual species identified and potentially hundreds of unique species that once roamed the Earth, according to experts. The hadrosaur above is an artist’s reconstruction of one of the Russian discoveries

The most complete dinosaur fossil ever discovered in Mississippi is now known to be a hadrosaur — but only 15 percent of it has been safely recovered. Researcher Derek Hoffman (above) uses 3D forensic bone analysis to determine the exact species of hadrosaur

The most complete dinosaur fossil ever discovered in Mississippi is now known to be a hadrosaur — but only 15 percent of it has been safely recovered. Researcher Derek Hoffman (above) uses 3D forensic bone analysis to determine the exact species of hadrosaur

For nearly two decades, it remained unknown which of the many species of dinosaurs found in the Bonneville, Mississippi area was actually the one.

But researchers are now turning to a 3D method of forensic bone analysis to solve the mystery before it is fully discovered.

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University of Southern Mississippi (USM) geology graduate student Derek Hoffman is analyzing hadrosaur remains in this way, known in many scientific disciplines as “morphometric measurements.”

“What geometry does,” Hoffman described it, “is it takes a shape-analysis approach.”

The key features or “landmarks” of a given bone sample, their distances, and the ratios of those distances are identified, and these distances are then compared through complex statistical models to confirm differences and similarities with known bones.

This method has also proven effective in anthropology as well as in studies of human evolution, including comparisons of brain cavities in Modern humans and our Neanderthal ancestors.

But Hoffman’s search for answers about the hadrosaur fossil has been made more difficult by the fact that some pieces of the creature have become available to private collectors.

Above, the upper arm bone of an ancient hadrosaur dinosaur discovered in northeastern Mississippi.

Above, the upper arm bone of an ancient hadrosaur dinosaur discovered in northeastern Mississippi.

Hoffman’s work focuses primarily on bones held at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Sciences.

“We have quite a few vertebrae,” George Phillips, curator of paleontology at the museum, told a local newspaper. Clarion Ledger“We have one humerus.”

“We have one ulna. The ulna is located at the back of the forearm.”

“We have some foot bones,” Phillips continued. “And then we have the pubic bone.”

The ulna of an adult hadrosaur was about two feet long and the humerus was about a foot and a half long. A single fully developed foot bone of an adult hadrosaur could weigh more than 50 pounds in total.

But the dinosaur’s skull – the most distinctive feature to distinguish hadrosaur species – has yet to be found, frustrating researchers.

It is well known that the various species of hadrosaurs evolved with a wide and bizarre array of crowns on their heads that resembled duck beaks, and even flexible materials like the red rooster’s “comb.”

Paleontologists still debate what biological purpose these unusual and sometimes ostentatious features may have served, but their diversity contributed to the recorded diversity of the hadrosaurid family.

Hoffman at the University of Southern Mississippi focused on the dinosaur’s pubis, a bone from the front of the pelvis, as the next best option for identifying the fossil.

While the differences between the pubic bones of hadrosaur species are subtle, often too subtle for the naked human eye, subtle distinctions between them can be detected through rigorous mathematical approaches such as geometric measurements.

The University of Southern Mississippi geology graduate student hopes to narrow down at least how many possible hadrosaur species this Mississippi fossil might be.

Or, “What is the lowest taxonomic level we can get this hadrosaur to,” as Hoffman put it.

What is known now about this hadrosaur is that it was likely between 25 and 26 feet long and about 16 feet tall when it stood on its hind legs.

While researchers believe the hadrosaur lineage began in North America, the plant-eaters eventually migrated across the world with fossils discovered in Asia, South America, Europe and North Africa.

“They are the most well-represented dinosaurs in the fossil record, without a doubt,” Hoffman said.

The name Hadrosaurs is derived from the ancient Greek word meaning “strong lizard”, and the heavy animals actually ranged from About 2.2 to 4.4 US tons (or 2,000 to 4,000 kilograms).

Several species of hadrosaurs lived between 75 and 65 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous period.

Other examples of dinosaurs from the hadrosaur family include: Parasaurolophuswhich had a long, backward-curving crest on its head and appears in the 2022 film ‘Jurassic World Dominion,’ and Edmontosauruswhich had the aforementioned crown made of soft tissue like a rooster.

The discovery of this hadrosaur in 2007 near Bonneville was simply “an amazing find,” said state official James Starnes, of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s geology office.“Incredibly unusual.”

“We don’t have a lot of skeletons,” Starnes said. “We have bits and pieces, but we don’t have a single skeleton.”

Starnes hopes that although it has taken nearly two decades to extract only a fraction of the hadrosaur fossil, the project will one day be completed.

“We’re still getting more of this sample,” Starnes said.