Xray Investigation

The exceptional preservation of a mummified dinosaur invites extreme curiosity about its internal structures, but responsible investigators are loath to bore destructively through the precious skin fossils in order to explore what might or might not lie beneath. Accordingly, advanced technology is now being brought to bear on well-preserved fossil specimens, in experimental approaches via digital imaging. In the summer of 2006, Leonardo was examined by a Kodak Industrex ACR-2000i digital x-ray imaging system, which was brought to the JRF location in Malta, Montana. The x-ray analysis reportedly produced "more data than any of the paleontologists anticipated," but the results have not yet been published in full.

The technique used by Murphy and his team will help unlock some of the secrets of Leonardo, but to truly "look inside" the fossil would require the use of an industrial CT scanner. Such scanners can slice through metal engine blocks to reveal their inner components in a noninvasive way. Different elements of the engine or fossil can also be extracted using powerful software to image where the eye was never meant to see. Early in our research ofTyler's fossil, we realized that such insight would be invaluable, so we started our search for such a suitable CT machine.

If Leonardo perished in a warm, moist environment of ferns and liverworts, how could its body have been mummified rather than decaying rapidly? Murphy and his colleagues propose that some unusual bacterio-chemical processes must have broken down and liquefied the flesh and guts of Leonardo, while somehow leaving the skin preserved. However, this scenario does not explain the specific nature of the process, or how it produced this most unusual find.

It is perhaps fitting that so remarkable a find as Leonardo should retain some of his grave secrets for the time being. The popular press crowned him king of the mummified dinosaurs and called him the best-preserved dinosaur in the world, for if the reports are accurate, the soft-tissue preservation of Leonardo, together with its apparent gut contents, give it an edge over even the Sternberg mummies.

Such was the state of affairs when Tyler encountered his own remarkable find in the American West. Here was a unique opportunity to approach a prehistoric find with 21 st-century methods and technology. What would follow was a series of bizarre coincidences that eventually brought my and Tyler's paths to cross. For collaboration to be successful, first serendipity has to play an important part.

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