The mummified Edmontosaurus Dinosaur

It’s laying there, almost on its back, with its left arm bent up and backwards in a rather awkward position; its right arm is out and forward; small hoofs are well preserved on both arms; much larger hoofs are still there on both hind legs; the neck is arched backwards, the obvious effects of advanced rigor mortise; the head is mostly exposed bone but pieces of skin and desiccated flesh still cling to the neck and especially the back. The skin is well preserved with small polygonal plates giving it a somewhat coarse grained texture. In places there are exposed tendons, some up to a quarter of an inch in diameter. The stomach cavity is mostly open with ribs supporting more pieces of mummified remains. The tail is missing but most of the rest of the animal is still there. In short, it’s an amazing piece of preservation!

I have never been able to look at it without thinking that surely it must have died just recently; maybe last summer; probably in a desert environment where the sun and hot dry winds could turn it to jerky before much decomposition had taken place. It invariably reminds one of those dead cows that ranchers come across as they ride the range after drought years. Never a pleasant experience, at least for the rancher.

There is nothing abstract about this fossil. It’s not anything like the all- bone articulated skeletons you normally see in museums; one is left with little doubt that this was once a living, breathing, fully functioning animal – inseparably connected to its ancient world, and indeed it was ancient, for this creature has been dead for over 65 million years! So dead, and yet looking so recently alive.

The well preserved back of Edmontosaurus

By now you have probably guessed that I am describing a dinosaur. It’s an Edmontosaurus, commonly referred to as a duckbill dinosaur. It was discovered by George Sternberg back in 1908. The significance of the find and the ensuing excitement made it difficult for George to get much needed sleep. The remoteness of the area and the fact that “even sheepherders rarely went that way,” did little to dispel the thoughts that his precious discovery might be stolen or vandalized. The mummified Edmontosaurus was eventually sold to the American Museum of Natural History where it still lies awkwardly on its back, behind glass, in about the same position as when it was originally found. It comes from late Mesozoic Cretaceous beds from eastern Wyoming. To see an excellent replica, go to The Dinosaur Museum at Blanding, Utah.


Some of the dinosaur description for this story comes from “The Sternberg Fossil Hunters – a Dinosaur Dynasty” by Katherine Rogers, Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1999.