Posted on behalf of Marian Turner.
The almost perfectly complete fossil of a young theropod dinosaur – including some preserved hair and skin* (see update below) – was unveiled yesterday by scientists from the Bavarian paleontological and geological collections (BSPG) in Munich, Germany. BSPG conservator Oliver Rauhut described it as the best preserved dinosaur skeleton to have ever been found in Europe.
Darren Naish, palaeontologist at the University of Southampton, says the fossil is “incredible”. Rauhut says that fossils of theropod dinosaurs, which include the genus Tyrannosaurus, are rare and usually fragmented. “The best-preserved Tyrannosaurus we have are about 80 percent preserved, and that is already terrific,” he says. The new fossil is around 98% intact.
The dinosaur died around 135 million years ago at a site near the present town of Kelheim in the southern German state of Bavaria. Rauhut and his team of palaeontologists think it was no more than a year old.
Naish hopes that the bone preservation in the fossil is as outstanding as it looks in the publically-released photo, because this might help scientists piece together the phylogeny of theropod species. No data is available on the fossil yet, so Naish can only speculate, but he says the dinosaur seems to have proportionally shorter legs, and a longer tail, than have been seen in other similar theropods. Particularly tantalising is the question of whether these differences are attributable to the dinosaur being a juvenile, or if it might be an example of a new species.
“There have been recent suggestions that some juvenile dinosaurs were so anatomically different to adults that they occupied different ecological niches,” says Naish. “Dinosaur species diversity seems to have been lower than might be expected, and one reason for this could be that individuals of a single species occupied multiple different niches over their lifetimes.” He says this new specimen might provide insights into this evolutionary possibility.
Anyone in the area can check out the fossil for themselves from 27 October, when it will be on display for four days at the Munich Show before moving to a museum.
*UPDATE: As many of you noted in the comments, dinosaurs are not known to have had hair. The word was widely used by German-language media, but it is likely that the dinosaur did not have hair, but protofeathers, fuzzy, filament-like precursor to feathers, seen in other theropods.
Image credit: Helmut Tischlinger / Photoshot