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Saturday, June 20, 1998 Published at 05:20 GMT 06:20 UK


Sci/Tech

Jurassic Poop

Godzilla: 20 stories high; T-rex coprolite: 44 cm long

The BBC Science Unit's Pauline Newman reports on a huge piece of dinosaur dung found in Canada.

The white, weathered lump of fossil dung was discovered half buried in mudstone in the desolate hilly plains of western Saskatchewan in Canada, near its border with the United States.


Archaeologist Timothy Tokaryk on his faecal find
It was found by two archaeologists from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum who were taking a short break from excavating the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex that they'd discovered in the area two years earlier.

"What we found was a white, globular mass, about the size of a loaf of bread. It was about 44 centimetres in length," said Timothy Tokaryk, one of the archaeologists.

The coprolite and the fragments together weighed over seven kilograms and were obviously only part of the intestinal outpourings of a huge dinosaur.

The age of the rock it was lying in was 65-67 million years, and the only carnivorous dinosaur around at that time that was large enough to produce the massive coprolite was Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The great size of T-Rex may have made him a very slow and cumbersome dinosaur who relied on scavenging dead animals rather than chasing after them himself.

However, his faeces are giving scientists a wealth of other information.

By looking at the cross-sections of the bone fragments in the coprolite and comparing them to other fossils, the scientists worked out that one victim of T-Rex was a young, cow sized, plant-eating dinosaur.

They also found that the bone fragments were jagged and shattered, indicating that T-Rex ground up its prey with its teeth before swallowing it, unlike reptiles such as crocodiles living today who swallow their prey in large pieces.

And because the bone fragments were hardly damaged in their passage through T-Rex, it's likely that the meal didn't remain for long in the acidic conditions of its stomach.

And there is even a possibility of finding DNA in the bones of the victim.



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