Chinese scientists discovered a perfectly preserved dinosaur embryo collecting dust in a museum storeroom in 2015. Researchers published the first study into the embryo on Tuesday.
The fossilized egg was found in southern China at the Yingliang Stone Natural History Museum in Nan’an when a museum employee finally noticed bones peeking out of the egg’s shell, causing them to suspect whether the egg might actually be holding a preserved dinosaur.
“The museum realized it must be an important specimen, so they contacted us to look at the egg,” says Waisum Ma a researcher from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom who worked on the study. “We were surprised to see this embryo beautifully preserved inside.”
The egg is roughly 72 million to 66 million years old, and 24 centimeters long. The dinosaur’s body is curled within the 17-centimeter long egg. The remains of the embryo indicate that the specimen is an oviraptorid, a bird-like dinosaur with two legs and feathers.
Ma believes that the egg was almost immediately buried in the ground upon being laid, allowing it to be so well preserved across time:
“It is very rare to find dinosaur embryos, especially ones that are intact. We’ve never had embryos well-preserved enough to see this before.”
The egg was originally found at the Shahe industrial park in Ganzhou City before being donated to the museum over two decades ago.”We’re not sure how it was first discovered but we guess it was something related to construction work,” said Ma.
New study highlights the uniqueness of oviraptorid embryo
A new paper published on the embryo on Tuesday has taken a closer look at the astonishing discovery that researchers call “a very lucky find.”
Darla Zelenitsky, an associate professor in the department of geoscience at the University of Calgary in Canada, who co-authored the paper, said that “It is an amazing specimen… I have been working on dinosaur eggs for 25 years and have yet to see anything like it.”
“Up until now, little has been known of what was going on inside a dinosaur’s egg prior to hatching, as there are so few embryonic skeletons, particularly those that are complete and preserved in a life pose,” she said to CNN in an email.
“Most known non-avian dinosaur embryos are incomplete with skeletons disarticulated (bones separated at the joints),” said Ma, adding that they “were surprised to see this embryo beautifully preserved inside a dinosaur egg, lying in a bird-like posture. This posture had not been recognized in non-avian dinosaurs before.”
This embryonic pre-hatching behavior has been directly passed down to bird species from two-legged dinosaurs, of which all birds are directly descended.