A 77 million year old dinosaur fossil was found in Montana’s Missouri River Country. What makes this dinosaur so exceptional is the preservation of skin and internal organs. Dinosaur enthusiasts are encouraged to visit the land Leo called home.
Move over Leonardo DaVinci! There’s a new Leo on the block, and he’s old, really old. Leonardo the Dinosaur roamed the lush wetlands of what is now Montana’s Missouri River Country 77 million years ago.
On July 27, 2000 an expedition was searching for dinosaur fossils near Malta, Montana. What they discovered was the find of a lifetime. Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur, was a young Brachylophosaurus. The giant fossil was named for graffiti near the site that says “Leonard Webb loves Geneva Jordan 1916.” Leonardo is one of only four Brachylophosaurus to be unearthed. A Brachylophosaurus is a plant-eating, duckbilled, two-legged dinosaur. Scientists believe Leonardo was three or four years old when he died. He would have been over 20 feet long and weighed in at more than 2,000 pounds.
The thing that makes Leonardo a truly extraordinary dinosaur is how well-preserved he is. This age-defying dinosaur still has 90% of his skin, and is only missing a bit of his head and tail. In addition to his skin, the contents of Leonardo’s stomach have been preserved. Scientists even know what Leo ate for his last meal; his stomach mainly contains leaves from ferns, magnolias and conifers. X-rays from Leo show the first evidence of dinosaur organs. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Leonardo as the best-preserved dinosaur ever discovered.
It took a team of over 25 volunteers to remove Leo from his grave in Montana’s Missouri River Country. The workforce included paleontologists, geologists, paleolife artists and many others interested in paleontology. The block of fossilized earth where Leonardo now resides tops the scales at over 65 tons. After being unearthed, Leo was transported to the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station in Malta.
In summer 2008, Leonardo was carefully packed up and moved to Houston. He was photographed under the high-power microscopes and state of the art x-ray systems at NASA. The Houston Museum of Natural Science created an exhibit called “Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation.” Leonardo is the star of the display that also features a number of smaller dinosaur fossils. Leo will return to his home territory and the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station in Fall 2010. In the meantime, visitors are encouraged to visit Leo’s birthplace to see where the giant beast roamed the earth while he was alive.
Leonardo is just one of the many dinosaur fossils to be found in the heart of Missouri River Country. Millions of years ago the landscape was a lush area many different dinosaur species called home. Now Missouri River Country is a hotbed for discovering new fossils. Dinosaur lovers are invited to visit the area where so many of the giant beasts are being discovered. The landscape has changed since the days of Leonardo, but Missouri River Country is still a land unlike any other. It’s a destination that calls out to all those interested in paleontology.