In the current Chinese province of Lianoning 125 millions of years ago 2 Ornithopods dinosaurs had found shelter in their own cave trying to rest, or perhaps escaping some big predator nearby. Or maybe they had noticed the sky getting cloudy, the earth shaking and they got scared, thinking that coming back to their haven would have been the most secure thing to do.
The choice ended up extremely wrong for them but massively lucky for the modern archaeologists
The two examples of Changmiania liaoningensis, a new kind of dinosaur discovered right through these fossils, never left their home and for this it became their tomb for all eternity. The rests were brought to light by a group of palaeontologists who renamed the new species as “eternal sleeper from Liaoning – Changmiania liaoningensis”.
Pascal Godefroit from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, explained that:
“These animals were quickly covered by fine sediment while they were still alive or just after their death. We believe that both Changmiania specimens were trapped by the volcanic eruption when they were resting at the bottom of their burrows 125 million years ago. The discovery reveal to the world the oldest Ornithopods dinosaur ever found until this day. The institute says they were small, herbivorous, bipedal dinosaurs, about 1.2 meters long. With very powerful hind legs and a long, stiff tail, paleontologists believe they were particularly fast runners”.
This new species was similar to the Iguanodon, gigantic herbivorous dinosaurs with dagger-like claws, which were the most popular duck-billed herbivorous dinosaurs.
The researcher carried on explaining other aspects which were different from the other kinds:
“However, certain characteristics of the skeleton suggest that Changmiania could dig burrows, much like rabbits do today. Its neck and forearms are very short but robust, its shoulder blades are characteristic of burrowing vertebrates and the top of its snout is shaped like a shovel”.
According to the research, published on PeerJ, it is believed that the prehistorical Ornithopods were resting when they got killed. Both examples appear in “perfect realistic postures”, in a prone position typical of the sleeping. The excavation site did not show any trace of atmospheric agent or predation action from other animals.
Most likely the unaware dinosaurs died in a completely similar fashion to the inhabitants of Pompei and Ercolano during the eruption in 79 BC. Ash clouds hit straight away whatever living being in the forest of Liaoning, and the animals died with their blood boiling and their skull exploded by the head produced by the volcano. Their fossils have come all the way to our time and tell not only their story but add a fundamental piece to the reconstruction of the phylogeny of the Ornithopods.