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Science & Tech

Dinosaur death pose mystery

Theories behind why dinosaur fossils are found in a strange position

  • Apr 30, 2014
  • 320 words
  • 2 minutes
Skeleton of a Struthiomimus altus from Drumheller’s Royal Tyrrell Museum Expand Image

In places like the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alta., dinosaurs are displayed with their bones connected, striking fearsome poses as they tower over visitors. But this likely wasn’t how they were discovered in the ground. Many bones are disconnected and scattered across a wide area.

On those occasions when an intact skeleton is found, the dinosaur is often positioned with its neck bending backwards, its mouth gapping open, and its tail sticking out. This unusual position is often referred to as the “death pose.”

While no one knows for certain how dinosaur bones ended up in this position, the answer may lie with that liquid resource coming out of your tap. Many believe that large flooding swept up the dinosaurs, causing their deaths. In the throes of drowning, they end up in this unique pose that’s typically associated with brain damage and asphyxiation.

Expand Image
Skeleton of a Gorgosaurus libratus from the Royal Tyrrell Museum. (Photo: Creative Commons)

To support this theory, scientists in Utah submerged chickens in freshwater and found they arched their necks and threw back their heads within seconds of going in the water. Other scientists submerged birds in saltwater and saw no movement of the head or neck.

Some speculate water was a contributor to the pose, but only after death. Once immersed in water, the dinosaur vertebra, which had a lot of stored energy to support long necks and tails, would arch the spine in death, creating the pose. Some even believe the fossilized bones are evidence supporting the Flood referenced in Genesis.

While water may be the reason for the pose when dinosaur bones are found near areas with abundant rivers and lakes, doubts still arise for bones found in arid landscapes. But the theory still works for dinosaurs traipsing through volcanic land, where they may have suffocated and been in the throes of death from falling ash rather than water.


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