Even for the lucky few creatures that are preserved in the fossil record, soft tissues such as skin and feathers typically disappear over time. But a newly developed technique has found a way to bring them back to life in some cases.
Researchers have now used the approach to resurrect the teeth and recognize the carcass of a 50-million-year-old fossil of a lizard, long thought to be merely preserved remnants of skin shed from the reptile. “This is incredibly uncharted territory," says Gregory Erickson, a vertebrate paleontologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “This technique reveals that there’s literally more to fossils than meets the eye."
The fossil’s state of preservation reveals a lot about the environmental conditions where a carcass ends up after death. Shining an x-ray on the fossil actually shines light on finding out a lot more. The team’s technique “will open the curtain to a whole new way of studying extinct animals and the conditions in which they lived and died," one of the researchers said.
Erickson agrees. “This ... will prompt paleontologists to revisit a lot of classic fossils. Who knows what got missed during the first 150 years of paleontology?"
Read more about the x-ray discovery at news.sciencemag.org.