Farmers in Liaoning province in the northeastern part of China made an interesting discovery when they found the remains of two previously unknown dinosaur species. What’s even more incredible is that the two dinosaurs were presumably buried alive in a burrow at the Lujiatun Beds around 125 million years ago, possibly due to a volcanic eruption.
After the farmers made their discovery, an international team of paleontologists from China, Belgium, and Argentina began analyzing the remains (the specimens are currently at the Paleontological Museum of Liaoning). Due to the fact that the pair of four-foot-long dinosaurs looked like they were just having a really good sleep, the researchers named them Changmiania liaoningensis which translates to “eternal sleeper from Liaoning”.
Based on their analysis, they found that the dinosaurs were early ornithopods, meaning that they were herbivores that walked on two legs. Interestingly, a dozen small rocks were located close to the stomach of one of the fossils that could have been gastroliths – pebbles that were digested by the dinosaur in order to help it digest its food. Their back legs were strong and they had a long, stiff tail, suggesting that they were fast runners. Additionally, they would have been great at digging burrows – which ultimately led to their demise as they were buried alive.
According to the study, “It is tentatively hypothesized that both Changmiania liaoningensis specimens were suddenly entrapped in a collapsed underground burrow while they were resting, which would explain their perfect lifelike postures” as well as the fact that the remains were in such good shape.
They added that “it can be hypothesized that the burrows containing the Changmiania skeletons collapsed during the debris flow episode; we can alternatively imagine that the Changmiania specimens dug their burrow in unstable reworked volcanic material just after the debris flow.”
Pascal Godefroit, who is a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, explained this further in a statement, “Certain characteristics of the skeleton suggest that Changmiania could dig burrows, much like rabbits do today,” adding, “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.” Pictures of the fossils can be seen here.