Fossil “Mummy” Shows Glimpse of Dinosaur Skin

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Despite its nickname, the Museum’s famous dinosaur “mummy”—the duck-billed dinosaur Edmontosaurus annectens on display in the Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs—is also a fossil like its neighbors. But it’s a fossil with a difference—it offers a rare glimpse of the texture of dinosaur skin.


Fossilized mummy of a duck-billed dinosaur lying on its side on display at the Museum.

And new research suggests that there may be more than a glimpse of ancient skin texture.

“It’s an inference, but a good one, that a fossilized remnant of the actual skin of our mummy may be preserved,” says Daniel Barta, a doctoral candidate in comparative biology at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, citing a 2009 biochemical analysis of a similar specimen published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.

A 2015 paper by some of the same researchers found that the skin of hadrosaurs may have been well suited to mummification because it contained pigmented molecules that broke down after death, releasing a substance that killed microbes involved in decomposition. Another hadrosaur specimen on view in the Museum’s Fossil Halls, Corythosaurus, also has large areas of skin impressions—and, potentially, fossilized skin. 

Fossilized skin and even its impressions of skin are rare and exciting finds, offering invaluable information about how the dinosaurs’ skin patterns compare to living reptiles and what they looked like in life. In the video below, Barta walks viewers through the Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs, showcasing the skin impressions on the Museum’s Edmontosaurus and Corythosaurus fossils.

 A version of this story originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Rotunda, the Member magazine.