Dinosaur fossil that preserves the navel

High-resolution laser imaging technology allows for incredible advances. For example, it happened on a 125-million-year-old dinosaur fossil. Where was it found? In China, 20 years ago. The dinosaur fossil that preserves the navel is one of a kind.

Michael Pittman is an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He applied the laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF) technique to a fossilized skin specimen of Psittacosaurus. This was a two-meter-long, two-meter-long herbivore. It lived in China during the Cretaceous period.

The dinosaur fossil that preserves the navel is well preserved.
The dinosaur fossil preserving the navel is well preserved.

Revealing scales

“We identified some distinctive scales. They surrounded a long umbilical scar on the specimen. It is similar to certain living lizards and crocodiles. We call this type of scar the umbilical scar, and it is smaller in humans. This specimen is the first dinosaur fossil to preserve an umbilicus, which is due to its exceptional state of preservation.”

Unlike humans, dinosaurs did not have an umbilical cord because they laid eggs. Their yolk sac was attached to the body through a slit-like opening. It is also found in other egg-laying land animals. It is this opening that was sealed when the animal hatched, leaving a long and distinctive umbilical scar. The dinosaur fossil that preserves the umbilicus is the first to be found.

The mark on its scales was detected with modern laser technology.
The mark on its scales was detected with modern laser technology.

Large specimen

“This beautiful specimen has been a sensation since it was described in 2002. Now, we have been able to study it in a completely new light. We used novel laser fluorescence images. And they reveal the scales in incredible detail,” Dr. Pittman said.

Phil R. Bell, Ph.D., of the University of New England is senior author of the study. He commented, “This is the most important fossil we have for studying dinosaur skin. It brings surprises that we can bring to life with new technology such as laser imaging.”

The specimen is on display at the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. The findings were published in the international biology journal BMC Biology.

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