Leonardo Project

A very rare dinosaur specimen may change what we know about the extinct creatures. Most dinosaur fossils are bones, but six years ago an almost complete dinosaur was excavated in Montana. It was named Leonardo. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports modern technology will be used to add new chapters to the story about dinosaurs.

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Leonardo isn't just bones.

"This is more than a skeleton, it's really a cadaver."

Nate Murphy is curator of paleontology at the Judith River Dinosaur Institute in Montana. He was part of the team that excavated Leonardo. He says it is the world's best preserved dinosaur.

"Basically what we have is a mummified carcass of a 77-million-year-old Brachylophosaurs, which is a Duckbill dinosaur."

Murphy says much of Leonardo's soft tissue remains affording scientist the possibility to study things never before examined using modern technology.

"This animal has most of his skin covering intact; we have three dimensional casts of muscles, the beak on his face, and toenails. We even have his last meal preserved in his stomach. We have just shot x-rays of his chest with structures that were seen inside that could be interpreted as fossilized organs."

A Leonardo Project exhibit was part Kodak's booth at the American Society for Nondestructive Testing conference and tradeshow last week at the George R. Brown Convention center. Kodak's Steve Mango says technology used on Leonardo is not itself new.

"We're using computed radiology, which in itself is not unique; we've used it in non-destructive testing in the industrial market. But what is unique in this application is using it on something like a scientific project, like this, in paleontology who (sic) is largely unaware of the technology, and now it opens up entirely new doors and new opportunities for them with this technology."

Nate Murphy says that technology produces both wonder and more questions.

"The Eastman Kodak Company brought out some wonderful technology that they have here at the convention and shot our first glimpses into what a dinosaur might have looked like inside. It was incredible. I can't tell you when the first images came up and we saw those structures inside. What they are, we don't know 'cause no one's ever seen what the organ orientation of a dinosaur looks like."

Murphy says we may not know what dinosaurs really looked like because of the lack of soft tissue discoveries. He says for example, if you had no idea what a human looked like and had nothing more than a skull you wouldn't know what ears or a nose looked like. You'd have no idea about eyebrows or hair, the images you concluded would all be speculative.

The Leonardo Project will be part of a Discovery Channel program to air in 2008. To learn more about Leonardo you'll find a link at kuhf.org.

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