A fossilized leg of a dinosaur that died on the day the Chicxulub asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago has been unearthed alongside a fragment of the space rock that killed it, experts say.
The leg fossil, found at the Tanis site in North Dakota, belonged to a Thescelosaurus, a small herbivore, and is likely to have been ripped off after the asteroid hit and caused a flash flood.
Palaeontologists say it’s the first dinosaur victim from the famous asteroid strike – which left a 93-mile-wide impact crater in what is today the Gulf of Mexico – that has ever been discovered.
The creature was ‘buried on the day of impact’, they claim. They also think they’ve unearthed a tiny fragment from the asteroid, which totaled more than six miles in diameter when it struck Earth, ending the era of the dinosaurs.
The remarkable discoveries were made by University of Manchester palaeontologist Robert DePalma at a famous dig site called Tanis in North Dakota, discovered in 2008 and nicknamed ‘the dinosaur graveyard’.
They could provide the first ever physical evidence that dinosaurs were killed by an asteroid strike at the end of the Cretaceous Period.
A new BBC documentary presented by Sir David Attenborough to be aired next week will reveal several new findings at Tanis.
‘This is the most incredible thing that we could possibly imagine here, the best case scenario… the one thing that we always wanted to find in this site and here we’ve got it,’ DePalma told the BBC.
‘Here we’ve got a creature that was buried on the day of impact – we didn’t know at that point yet if it had died during the impact but now it looks like it probably did.’
The findings were reported by the BBC after the corporation and Sir David Attenborough were granted exclusive access to the site for the documentary.
Entitled ‘Dinosaurs: The Final Day with David Attenborough’, the documentary will be aired on BBC One on Friday, April 15.
Filmed over the course of three years at Tanis, the documentary will also give the public a first glimpse of other historic findings.
These will include fish that breathed in impact debris, a fossilised turtle that was skewered by a wooden stake and skin from a horned triceratops.
‘We’ve got so many details with this site that tell us what happened moment by moment, it’s almost like watching it play out in the movies,’ DePalma said.
‘You look at the rock column, you look at the fossils there, and it brings you back to that day.’
Researchers will submit their findings for peer-review so they can be confirmed, before being published in journals.
Professor Paul Barrett at the Natural History Museum in London said the preserved leg once belonged to a dinosaur in the Thescelosaurus genus, a name that translates as ‘wonderful lizard’.