What were dinosaurs like? The rebirth of the zombie dinosaurs

What were dinosaurs like? The rebirth of the zombie dinosaurs

The zombies from Walking Dead and the White Walkers from Game of Thrones have one thing in common: their dead bodies are in decomposition process, some parts are missing or peeling, and some are deformed.

With this gloomy image some paleontologists jump into the reconstruction of dinosaur fossils.

Although there is nothing left but his bones, Those creatures that inhabited the Earth millions of years ago had more muscle and fat. Than the walking dead on Halloween night. But, after the death of the animal, the organic matter is the first to disappear and the body remains incomplete at the time of fossilization.

This process could distort the original shape of dinosaurs. and other beings at the time of rebuilding them. So, how were dinosaurs? Were they as we really believe?

“As soon as an organism dies, it begins to decompose and this decomposition process inevitably involves changes in the appearance of the characteristics or parts of the body: they can collapse, alter their shape or position; very soon they liquefy and are eaten by bacteria until there is nothing left ”, explains Professor Sarah Gabbott from the School of Geography, Geology and Environment at the University of Leicester (UK).

How much is missing from a fossil after decomposition and mineralization?

In a study, published in the journal Paleontology and financed by the Natural Environment Research Council from the United Kingdom, a group of British scientists has performed a series of experiments on animal carcasses current to try to understand how much is missing from a fossil and what has changed from decomposition and mineralization.

For these paleontologists, the image that is created of animals and their ecosystems is more accurate, more complete and, above all, less partial.

“Some of the features that are present are nothing like what they had when the animal was alive and many features are completely missing. The trick is to recognize partially decomposed features, where parts of the body have completely rotted away, ”stresses Mark Purnell, lead author and researcher at the University of Leicester (UK).

According to these scientists, the decomposition of dead animals, from clownfish and lampreys (primitive eel-like creatures) to insects and various worms, shows that "carefully designed" experiments provide unique information on decomposition and fossilization processes.

But nevertheless, the extent to which soft tissues influence the history of biodiversity and evolution?

“Without skeletal tissues, we would not know dinosaurs, trilobites, ammonites, or the origin of life 3.5 billion years ago, or most of our ancestors because most of the fossil record consists of that. only: skeletons, shells, bones, shells, tracks, footprints and ichnites ”, ditch to Sinc Gloria Cuenca Bescós, from the University of Zaragoza.

The science of remains and traces

Already at the end of the 19th century the taphonomy, the science dealing with "burial laws" and that it would allow paleontologists to understand how animals left their tracks and thus analyze the accumulation, modification and preservation of fossil remains.

The lack of anatomical knowledge means that bungling things that are far from reality are reconstructed”, Explains the researcher. According to her, new paleontological excavation methods and technologies are necessary to correct mistakes.

So, before venturing to reconstruct anything, the first question scientists must ask themselves is:how was the living being whose fossil they study?

"Even so, mistakes are made," Cuenca-Bescós emphasizes, "surely many more than we would like to admit to paleontologists."

In addition, not everything that appeared in the deposits was skeletal remains, they also appeared icnites (dinosaur footprints), fossil burrows, egg shells, shells of mollusks or unicellular microorganisms, pollen, seeds, insects and plants in amber, among many others.

In the absence of soft tissue, paleontologists generally apply techniques and methodologies of comparative anatomy and taphonomy applied at the time of excavations..

“When we know which are the muscle insertion areas, we can know what the muscle was like, what force it had to exert and what levers it moved. Thus it is not difficult to reconstruct an animal, even if it has already become extinct ”, he points out.

The present also helps them rebuild the past: the biology of current species are its model. ¿How would we know but how fast the dinosaurs grew? The answer is thanks to observations with chickens and crocodiles, their closest current relatives.

These techniques are joined by ancient DNA analysis, of biomomécules in sediments and bones. Only in this way has it been possible to know, for example, that Neanderthals could have red hair, know the color of the feathers of dinosaurs or the type of bacteria that populated the primitive earth three billion years ago.

Carnivores and bone disorder

But the reconstruction of a fossil is not complete until you understand how and where the animals lived. And in this sense, one of the aspects that have most concerned paleontologists, within taphonomy, are the fossil accumulations.

"Explaining life in the past also requires knowing how the organisms that once formed the biosphere left their marks," says the scientist from the University of Zaragoza.

When large amounts of piled up mammalian remains appear in the sites, there is only one explanation: the action of hominids or carnivores. And this is confirmed by several studies.

It is the case of Los Rincones site in Zaragoza, where they have recovered 1,443 remains of fossil bone fragments, especially goats. It is one of the few European deposits whose accumulation is due to the action of leopards and the use of the cave as a winter refuge by brown bears.

Paleontologists found among all these bones the remains of brown bears and leopards thus confirming their activity during the Upper Pleistocene, more than 11,000 years ago.

Another recent study, led by scientists from the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH), also corroborated the action of carnivores in the preservation of deposits.

The experiments carried out with foxes in the Parc Natural de l’Alt Pirineu in Lleida allowed to show that thousands of years ago these small carnivores accumulated large amounts of bones and also modified them, being able to produce great alterations in the deposits.

Just taking into account all these aspects Scientists finally manage to reconstruct not only the animal or the plant, but also its entire environment, the ecosystem in which it lived, how it reproduced and even how it walked.

After studying History at the University and after many previous tests, Red Historia was born, a project that emerged as a means of dissemination where you can find the most important news about archeology, history and humanities, as well as articles of interest, curiosities and much more. In short, a meeting point for everyone where they can share information and continue learning.

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