A remarkably well-preserved dinosaur fossil has been found near the city of Ganzhou in southeastern China. The serendipitous discovery came at a school-building site, where workers were digging using dynamite. Despite this, the fossil was extracted almost completely intact, save for a few small skeletal sections which had been blown off.
It was identified by a joint team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and the University of Edinburgh, and found to be a member of a family of flightless feathered dinosaurs called oviraptorosaurs. The recent increase of oviraptorosaur findings in the area has led to the theory that this group of animals was one of the last to flourish before the cataclysmic asteroid impact that killed off three quarters of all species on the planet 66 million years ago.
The skeleton of the bird-like creature was found lying on its front, with wings splayed and neck outstretched. Scientists have given its new species the name Tongtianlong limosus, meaning “muddy dragon on the road to heaven”. It is speculated to have died after being trapped in mud between 72 and 66 million years ago.
Dr. Steve Brusatte, a co-author of the study detailing this discovery, told phys.org: “This new dinosaur is one of the most beautiful, but saddest, fossils I’ve ever seen. But we’re lucky that the ‘Mud Dragon’ got stuck in the muck, because its skeleton is one of the best examples of a dinosaur that was flourishing during those final few million years before the asteroid came down and changed the world in an instant.”
Earlier this year, a study was released (by scientists from the Universities of Reading and Bristol) which analysed dinosaur population trends. It concluded that dinosaur populations “showed a marked reduction in their ability to replace extinct species with new ones, making them vulnerable to extinction and unable to respond quickly to and recover from the final catastrophic event.” The discovery of the ‘Mud Dragon’ and other oviraptorosaurs in the area, however, hints at the fact that this might have not been the case universally, as they show unprecedented levels of diversification.