Cue the John William music, as scientists have discovered a 99-million year old dinosaur tail entombed in amber that’s being labeled a “once in a lifetime discovery.”
CNN reports that Xing Lida, a Chinese paleontologist, discovered the specimen while browsing an amber market in northern Myanmar near the Chinese border.
The piece, which is described as being about the size of a dried apricot, would have ended up as a curiosity or piece jewelry. Burmese traders had believed that the dinosaur tail was actually a plant fragment.
“I realized that the content was a vertebrate, probably theropod, rather than any plant,” Xing told CNN.
“I was not sure that (the trader) really understood how important this specimen was, but he did not raise the price.”
Xing’s findings are set to be published in the December issue of Current Biology. Among other things, Xing’s research sheds new light on how dinosaurs looked, with Ryan McKeller, a paleontologist at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and co-author of the paper, admitting he was blown away when he was first shown the piece of amber.
“It’s a once in a lifetime find. The finest details are visible and in three dimensions.”
The tail belongs to a young coelurosaurian, part of the same group of dinosaurs as predators such as the velociraptor and tyrannosaurus. However, it was much smaller than its contemporaries, being about the size of sparrow and could have fit in the palm of your hand. The amber also contains bone fragments and feathers, contributing to mounting evidence that many dinosaurs had plumage rather than scales.
Dinosaur fragments have been found preserved in amber before, but this represents the first discovery of actual mummified dinosaur skeleton, according to McKeller.
Unfortunately, McKellar has bad news for those hoping the mummified tail section could be used to extract dinosaur DNA and clone a coelurosaurian Jurassic Park-style. Although soft tissue and decayed blood from the tail were found in the amber, McKeller says that no genetic material was preserved.
“Unfortunately, the Jurassic Park answer is still a ‘no’ — this is firmly in the realm of science fiction,” he said.