November 17, 1998...A team of researchers announced today in the journal Nature the discovery of a dinosaur nesting ground strewn with thousands of eggs, dozens of which still have unhatched dinosaur embryos inside. In addition to tiny embryonic bones, many of the eggs contain patches of delicate fossilized skin, providing the first glimpse of the soft tissue covering baby dinosaurs.
The extraordinary new fossils represent a number of scientific firsts: the first dinosaur embryos to show fossilized skin; the first known embryos of the giant plant-eating dinosaurs called sauropods; and the first dinosaur embryos found in the southern hemisphere. As well as appearing in Nature, the discovery is also featured in the December issue of National Geographic.
The nesting site, which dates from the late Cretaceous and is approximately 70 to 90 million years old, is located near Auca Mahuida, in the Patagonian badlands of Argentina. The research team, headed by scientists from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Museo Municipal Carmen Funes in Neuqun, Argentina, named the new site "Auca Mahuevo" for its tremendous abundance of eggs, or huevos in Spanish. Eggs are so plentiful in the square-mile nesting site that it is virtually impossible to walk without crushing egg shell fragments under foot.
If the tiny embryos from Auca Mahuevo had hatched, the baby dinosaurs would have started life a mere fifteen inches long and grown to an adult size approaching forty-five feet long. The fossil skin reveals a scaly surface, much like the skin of a modern-day lizard. One of the fossils has a distinct stripe of larger scales near its center, which probably ran down the animal's back.
Why Auca Mahuevo yields two of the rarest of all types of fossils, fragile
embryonic bones and skin casts, is one of the mysteries about the site that the
team hopes to answer. Initial studies suggest that the egg clusters were laid
in the flood
Contact: Elizabeth Chapman
American Museum of Natural History