Tanis, an important fossil site in North Dakota, has produced some fascinating findings. Previously at the site, scientists discovered sturgeon and paddlefish that died as Chicxulub – the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs – hit Earth.
Lodged in the fishes gills are tiny spherules, particles created from molten rock that date to the impact. The fish seem to have inhaled these particles with their dying breath. It was through analyzing the growth patterns of these fish that scientists determined the asteroid struck in springtime.
Other fossils from the site have included a turtle impaled on a wooden stake, a pterosaur egg with embryo inside, small mammals along with their burrows and triceratops skin. Scientists believe that all of these amazing remains come from the moment of the asteroid impact.
Now, another spectacular and perhaps more momentous finding comes from Tanis. An incredibly well preserved dinosaur leg with impressions of skin including foot pads was found by a team led by Robert DePalma, a University of Manchester graduate student. The leg appears to be that of a thescelosaurus, according to professor Paul Barrett of London’s Natural History Museum.
“It’s from a group that we didn’t have any previous record of what its skin looked like, and it shows very conclusively that these animals were very scaly like lizards. They weren’t feathered like their meat-eating contemporaries.” Barrett told BBC.
“This looks like an animal whose leg has simply been ripped off really quickly. There’s no evidence on the leg of disease, there are no obvious pathologies, there’s no trace of the leg being scavenged, such as bite marks or bits of it that are missing,”
Some scientists are suspicious of the claims at Tanis. For one thing, the entire site is a jumble of terrestrial and marine fossils from the western interior seaway mixed together, probably by the meteor impact. It’s possible that some of these animals died earlier and were mixed together after the impact. So far, the findings have not been presented in a peer reviewed scientific journal, and their scientific merit is yet to be confirmed.