The pregnant ichthyosaur female from Holzmaden (Germany) that perished 182 million years ago puzzled researchers for quite some time: The skeleton of the extinct marine reptile is almost immaculately preserved and the fossilized bones of the mother animal lie largely in their anatomical position. The bones of the ichthyosaur embryos, however, are a different story: For the most part, they lie scattered outside the body of the mother. Such peculiar bone arrangements are repeatedly found in ichthyosaur skeletons. According to the broadly accepted scientific doctrine, this is the result of exploding carcasses: Putrefaction gases produced during the decomposition process cause the carcass to swell and burst. Through such explosions, even the bones of embryos can supposedly be ejected out of the body. Based on an elaborate series of measurements and an analysis of the physical-biological parameters, however, a research team of sedimentologists, paleontologists and forensic scientists has now managed to dispel the myth of exploding dinosaur carcasses.
Putrefaction gas pressure not high enough
In order to gauge the pressure of the particular gases that can actually develop inside a putrefying ichthyosaur, the researchers sought comparative models and found one in human corpses: Humans and many ichthyosaur species have a similar size range. Consequently, the formation of similar amounts of putrefaction gas can be expected during decomposition. At the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Frankfurt, Germany, a manometer was inserted into the abdominal cavity through the umbilicus in one hundred corpses.The putrefaction gas pressures measured were only 0.035 bar. In the case of the ichthyosaur carcasses that came to rest below 50 to 150 meters of water, however, putrefaction gas pressures of over five to 15 bar would have been necessary to cause an explosion. According to Zurich paleontologist Christian Klug, gas pressures of this dimension and therefo
|Contact: Christian Klug|
University of Zurich