Imagine you’re a palaeontologist. (That part is probably easy, since every child nerd has wanted to study dinosaurs at some point.) Now imagine you’ve laid your hands on some extremely rare eggs. More precisely, egg fossils – containing the oldest dinosaur embryos ever discovered. This is precisely what happened to fossil collector James Kitching back in 1976, when he was digging around in Rooidraai in South Africa.
How does one look inside a fossilised dinosaur embryo without destroying it? These tiny skeletons have permanently fused into rock, and there’s only so much you can do to peer at them in detail. But you would want to look, in order to discover more about the ancient species whose nest site you’ve lucked upon some 200 million years after the eggs were laid by hopeful young Massospondylus parents.
According to this wonderful story on The Conversation, modern imaging technology can solve a fossilised embryo problem in moments – just give the eggs a CT scan!
Research on dinosaurs has truly blossomed in the 40 years since Kitching’s extraordinary find and a great deal more is now known about the baby dinosaurs in the eggs. But the exceptional secrets they hold are only now being fully uncovered because of developments in technology. This month the eggs were flown to Grenoble, a city at the foot of the French Alps, where they are being examined under a powerful CT scan at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.
The secrets of the embryonic dinosaurs whose parents roamed South Africa 200 million years ago are in the process of being hatched.
These high-resolution, 3D x-ray imaging methods are burgeoning in palaeontology. With advances in modern imaging methods we are now able to digitally remove rock matrix while making 3D models of the bones inside.