After being poached and sold internationally, this nest of hatchling fossils has finally made it back home to Mongolian authorities.
Archaeologists working in the Dragon’s Tomb, a region of the Gobi Desert famous for its abundant dinosaur fossils from the Late Cretaceous period, have excavated a fascinating new discovery: a nest of baby hadrosaurs of the Saurolophus angustirostris species. These dinosaurs are known for their duck-like bills, crested heads, and perhaps most famously for Ducky, their plucky family member in The Land Before Time.
The Dragon’s Tomb is a veritable treasure trove of hadrosaur fossils, making it popular with both paleontologists and poachers. Unfortunately, this particular nest had already been poached from their original site and sold to a private collector. By the time scientists could get their hands on the fossils, they had already lost their original archaeological context and the scientific knowledge that comes with it.
Still, the paleontologists were able to glean information from the fossils themselves. The specimens appear to be perinatal, meaning they died immediately before or after hatching. This makes them the youngest specimens of Saurolophus ever discovered, which can provide insight into the developmental process of these dinosaurs. Their skulls are only 5 percent the length of the largest known S. angustirostris specimens, but the bones had already begun to taken on adult characteristics like the flipped up snout. But they hadn’t yet developed the distinctive cranial crests that earned the name Saurolophus, meaning “lizard crest.”
Scientists believe the nest was washed away from its original home on a riverbank, back in the Dragon Tomb’s lush prehistory. It looks like the babies had already died and begun to decompose at the time they were buried by river sediments. After their long international journey, the hatchlings are back in Mongolia at the Institute of Paleontology and Geology in Ulaanbaatar.
Based on materials provided by PLOS.