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article imageMajor UK fossil find: Not only the dinosaur, but the whole environment, in one piece

By Paul Wallis     Jul 12, 2008 in Science
An Iguanodon could have had a better day back in the Cretaceous. But for paleontologists, it couldn’t have got much better. Everything about the dino’s death, even the plants, scavengers, pollen and micro fossils have been preserved.
Discovery News:
"Our study is in that regard remarkable, as it is a comprehensive, multidisciplinary study of the sedimentology and all the different microfossil groups present in the dinosaur-bearing bed," co-author Susanne Feist-Burkhardt told Discovery News.
The very big deal about this is that it appears that the entire chronological structure of the area, before the Iguanodon and after, is intact. They’ve found a whole ecological timeline.
This quote deserves attention, because you won’t find many authoritative statements like this in paleontology.
The pollen and spores indicate that many thousands of years before the Iguanodon was born, cone-bearing trees and big shrubs dominated the site. As time went on, liverworts and various types of ferns and mosses emerged. Dense fern undergrowth was then dotted here and there with the early flowers, all belonging to the genus Retimonocolpites.
Usually, ancient ecosystems have to be painstakingly put together by fragments, checked out, and a drip of slow new discoveries may or may not fill in the gaps. There’s normally more conjecture than fossils.
This find, by comparison, is a photograph with a documentary attached. It’s almost perfect, and luxurious statements like this have been possible:
She said numerous, extremely well-preserved ostracods, a shellfish commonly known as "seed shrimp," were preserved in the sediment next to the Iguanodon's remains. She even thinks the decaying dino's body created a "micro-environment" that helped to prevent the calcium carbonate in the shells from dissolving.
Not a bad bet, because the Iguanodon was a herbivore. It didn’t eat shrimp. A passing fish eater, however, a big wimp called Baronyx, found the Iguanodon, and took a few bites. The Baronyx lost a few teeth, because being a fish eater it didn’t really have the teeth for a big plant eater, and that’s yet another snapshot from what happened at this one find.
To the credit of about a century’s hard work, a lot of this is confirming the years of fragment-sifting and brainstorming which has put together our understanding of the dinosaur era.
The Iguanodon find will add another level of knowledge, this time a well integrated one, to the science.
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