A 135 million year-old fossil dinosaur caught
apparently taking a nap with its head tucked under its forearm
was discovered by scientists in China in 2004. It was the earliest
then-known example of an animal unearthed in a bird-like repose.
A report in the Nature journal stated the find
suggested that the characteristic sleeping posture probably first
arose in the dinosaur ancestors of modern birds. Mei long,
which means 'soundly sleeping dragon', was pulled out of the famous
fossil beds of Liaoning province. This is the location in China in
which so many feathered dinosaurs have been discovered - astonishing
finds that have fuelled the theory that modern birds can trace their
lineage to the 'terrible lizards' which once ruled the planet.
Mei long was described in Nature by Xing Xu,
of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and Mark Norell, of
the American Museum of Natural History.
These same researchers were reporting in early
October 2004 of the discovery of a fluffy-feathered cousin of the
mighty Tyrannosaurus rex - another fossil unearthed in Liaoning.
The scientists could tell from the mechanics of Mei long's
skeleton that the posture which it had at death was one it would
habitually take up - this was no accidental death pose.
Professor Xu speculated that the dinosaur may have
been killed by poison gas from the volcanic eruption that then
buried it in ash. Exactly how volcanic activity captured the life
posture was not known at the time, with a number of options being
available. For example, volcanic gas cut off the oxygen and the
animal died sleeping, peacefully. Then, later, the body was covered
quickly by ash.