UMD professor tells the secrets of a mummified dinosaur
It was only one day of work, but Dr. Arthur Aufderheide's observations gave researchers a valuable theory about a rare dinosaur discovery. Aufderheide, a professor of pathology at the University of Minnesota Duluth, took part in the research of L...
It was only one day of work, but Dr. Arthur Aufderheide's observations gave researchers a valuable theory about a rare dinosaur discovery.
Aufderheide, a professor of pathology at the University of Minnesota Duluth, took part in the research of Leonardo, the most complete dinosaur fossil ever discovered. A documentary about it -- "Secrets of the Dinosaur Mummy" -- debuts at 8 p.m. Sunday on the Discovery Channel.
Leonardo, a Brachylophosaurus and member of the hadrosaur family, was found in Malta, Mont., in 2001. It was first mummified and then fossilized, so it's made of stone with some original tissue probably present.
About 77 million years old, it is the only dinosaur found that still has fossilized skin covering a large portion of its body, and other preserved internal parts, including the stomach and its contents: magnolias, ferns and conifers.
Aufderheide is a renowned expert and author of books in the field of paleopathology -- the study of ancient diseases -- and on the dissection of mummies.
"We contacted Dr. Aufderheide because every time we wanted to get information about the process of mummification, which is not something paleontologists usually have to deal with ... mummy specialists anywhere in the U.S. at any university would point to Dr. Aufderheide," said Joe Iacuzzo, project manager for the Leonardo Project in Las Vegas.
Aufderheide suggested to researchers that the area where Leonardo was found might have been swampy, because chemicals called aldehydes normally found in swamps can prevent decay.
"They may have simply prevented the decay of internal organs long enough for them to become fossilized," Aufderheide said.
The theory was important because researchers have wondered from the beginning: "Why did nothing eat him? Why did his flesh and internal structures not rot away like virtually every other fossil ever found up until Leonardo?" Iacuzzo said.
Other "dinosaur mummies" discovered appear to have been preserved differently than Leonardo, he said.
Aufderheide works mainly with human bodies and had never seen a dinosaur until 2006, when he traveled to Malta -- about 30 miles from the Canadian border -- to help.
"I don't normally deal with that age group: millions of years," he said. "Nine thousand [years] is a lot for me."
Aufderheide has built a paleopathology database by examining several hundred mummies from around the world and the bones of many non-mummified remains. His 2003 book, "The Scientific Study of Mummies," is the standard guidebook to paleopathology. He collaborated on a study of bones of ancient Romans in the early 1990s that confirmed they contained extraordinarily high levels of lead, which historians had put forth years before as a possible cause of the decline of the Roman Empire.
Though Aufderheide is modest about his contribution, his ideas were important to researchers and supported another theory about how the dinosaurs of that period -- 12 million years before the end of the dinosaur age -- might have died.
Dr. David Eberth of the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Canada has said that a massive extinction occurred when hurricanes, starting in what was then the Gulf of Mexico, traveled through a shallow ocean separating the eastern and western parts of North America, Iacuzzo said.
Because there was no land mass to stop them, they grew stronger and created storm surges, including in what is now Montana, which created massive flooding that would have killed everything, Iacuzzo said.
"Especially larger animals, who would have a hard time treading water ... or grabbing on to a small floating object and ride out the storm," he said. "That's one theory on why you find so many complete skeletons in that area."
JANA HOLLINGSWORTH covers
higher education. She can be reached at (218) 279-5501 or by e-mail at jhollingsworth@ duluthnews.com.