James Lamb, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in geology with a concentration in paleontology, says further studies of the embryo could reveal new clues about dinosaurs and about the climate and physical environment they live in.
It is the first dinosaur egg with an embryo ever found in the eastern United States. The embryo is thought to be that of a Lophorhothan, a duck-billed dinosaur known only to have lived in the area now covered by modern-day Alabama. The embryo's leg bones are clearly visible, as is what appears to be fossilized yolk.
Lamb detailed his finding earlier this month in Bozeman, Mont., at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. He says it will be several more months before all the embryo's bones are revealed and his research is complete.
The 83-million-year-old egg was originally discovered by three high school students in 1970, but scientists at the time were unable to accurately determine its contents. A research paper published in 1978 could not conclude exactly what type of egg it is.
Lamb discovered that it contained an embryo after he borrowed it from Auburn University for a research project. While studying a part of the egg which previously had been cut away, he noticed three tiny bones. On a subsequent trip to Alabama, he arranged with Dr. Prescott Atkinson, an immunologist at Children's Hospital at University of Alabama at Birmingham, to have CT scans taken of the egg. Atkinson was one of the three students who unearthed the egg back in 1970. The CT scans confirmed the embryo's presence and revealed the orientation of its bones. Lamb then began manually removing them, using a buffered acid bath to dissolve the surrounding rock.