Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Big Snake, Small Dinosaur, and a Professor from Michigan

"In Fossil Find, 'Anaconda' Meets 'Jurassic Park' "
Christopher Joyce, NPR (March 2, 2010)

"Scientists have discovered a macabre death scene that took place 67 million years ago. The setting was a nest, in which a baby dinosaur had just hatched from an egg, only to face an 11-foot-long snake waiting to devour it.

"The moment was frozen forever when, apparently, the nest was buried in a sudden avalanche of mud or sand and everything was fossilized...."

(Sculpture by Tyler Keillor/Photo by Ximena Erickson/Image modified by Bonnie Miljour, via NPR, used w/o permission)

That was about 67,000,000 years ago. Things have changed since then. Snakes have jaws that unhinge now (the ancient snake didn't), and in the last century Western scientists have gotten into the habit of asking permission before they cart something valuable out of another country. Which I think is an improvement.

Anyway: the University of Michigan's professor Jeffrey Wilson got permission from the Indian government to cart a briefcase-sized hunk of rock with these fossils in it back to the United States, where he spent a year releasing the bits and pieces of what had been buried since before the dinosaurs went the way of the trilobites.

Aside from giving the University of Michigan some headline-worthy publicity, this fossil and others found in the same general area will probably help paleontologists piece together a more complete picture, not just of the plants and animals living where India is now, but how the ecology of the place worked.

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