Scientists have restored the fossil skull of a bizarre pot-bellied, plant-eating dinosaur that lived more than 90 million years ago in Mongolia.
The focus of the study was the skull of Erlikosaurus andrewsi, a 3-4 metre large herbivorous dinosaur called a therizinosaur, which lived more than 90 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period in what is now Mongolia.
“The fossil skull of Erlikosaurus andrewsi is one-of-a-kind and the most complete and best preserved example known for this group of dinosaurs. As such it is of high scientific value,” said co-author Professor Emily Rayfield said.
“With modern computer technology, such as CT scanning and digital visualisation, we now have powerful tools at our disposal, with which we can get a step closer to restore fossil animals to their life-like condition,” Dr Stephan Lautenschlager from the University of Bristol, said.
Using a digital model of the fossil, the team virtually disassembled the skull of Erlikosaurus into its individual elements.
Then they digitally filled in any breaks and cracks in the bones, duplicated missing elements and removed deformation by applying retro-deformation techniques, digitally reversing the steps of deformation.
In a final step, the reconstructed elements were re-assembled. This approach not only allowed the restoration of the complete skull of Erlikosaurus, but also the study of its individual elements.
However, using digital models has further advantages.
“Digital models allow the study of the external and internal features of a fossil. Furthermore, they can be shared quickly amongst researchers – without any risk to the actual fossil and without having to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to see the original,” co-author Dr Lawrence Witmer said.
“Therizinosaurs, with their pot bellies and comically enlarged claws, are arguably the most bizarre theropod dinosaurs. We know a lot about their oddball skeletons from the neck down, but this is the first time we’ve been able to digitally dissect an entire skull,” co-author, Dr Lindsay Zanno added.