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The Marmarth Mummified Dinosaur


It's not often that Marmarth, North Dakota makes national news. For years the tiny town of 140 has sat comfortably in its anonymity; just one of many small towns in North Dakota. But that was all before it became the site of one of the rarest and most important dinosaur finds in a generation.

In 1999, Tyler Lyson was visiting his uncle's ranch in the badlands outside Marmarth. Interested in fossils, the teen went hunting for dinosaurs. His hard work scouring the countryside was soon rewarded when he discovered some remains. What exactly was buried beneath the hard sandstone and rubble wasn't clear, but at first glance, the find seemed to be just another Edmontosaur; a herbivore of the late Cretaceous period.

Like the bison of the old American West, but scaly and weighing three and a half tons, Edmontosaurus was an incredibly successful animal. Millions of years ago, huge herds of the massive dinosaur migrated throughout the American continent searching for food, and at times serving as prey for the fearsome Tyrannosaurs rex. As the Edmontosaur was such a common prehistoric animal, thousands of their skeletons have been uncovered. Tyler Lyson's find was personally exciting, but it wasn't exactly earth shattering to the world of paleontology. That was before Lyson really began to dig.

As the years rolled by, and Tyler steadfastly picked away at the rock and debris, he began to realize the importance of his find. Lyson wasn't just unearthing an Edmontosaur skeleton, he was digging up a 67 million year old mummy; complete with skin, tendons and bones. Only a handful of these dinosaur mummies have ever been discovered, and Lyson's Edmontosaur eventually proved to be one of the best preserved.

What makes Tyler Lyson's Edmontosaur, nicknamed Dakota, so incredibly rare is the way the animal was preserved. While the vast majority of most dinosaurs decompose before they're buried and fossilized, Dakota was buried shortly after death. Kept away from most decomposing bacteria, Dakota's soft tissues survived long enough for the fossilization process to preserve the parts rarely seen by scientists. These ‘soft' tissues, which are now rock hard, give researches a much clearer idea of what dinosaurs looked like, how they moved and how their bodies were put together.

The media quickly gained wind of the historic find from the North Dakota badlands. It was on this date in 2008 that newspapers from around the nation informed the country of Dakota; a 67 million year old Edmontosaurus from the small town of Marmarth, North Dakota. And Tyler Lyson? His interest in dinosaurs continued, as he went on to Yale to earn his doctorate in paleontology.

Written by Lane Sunwall


Nicholson, Blake. "Fossil Emerges with Each Hair-Raising Brush." Chicago Tribune, March 19, 2008, 4.

"World-Famous Dinosaur at North Dakota Heritage Center," Plains Talk 39, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 1,2.