Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mummified dinosaur comes to HMNS

We're excited to announce that Leonardo, the famous mummified dinosaur from Malta, Montana, is coming to the Houston Museum of Natural Science this September for its world premiere display.

The fossil block, weighing 6.5 tons, reveals secrets that would not be evident from bones alone. For example, note the pouch under the throat – it may be a crop, to store food – a feature that also exists in modern birds. Photo by Grant Delin.

Leonoardo is one of only a very few big dinosaurs with preserved skin - and it covers 90% of his body. What makes him truly extraordinary is that his stomach contents - his last meal - are preserved. Until his discovery, scientists could only theorize what plant-eating dinosaurs ate. Now we know.

You can see video of this astounding fossil here. The link also includes photos of skin texture, illustrations of Leonardo in life, and more information about the exhibit and fossil.

In this Cretaceous scene, Leonardo calls to his mother, left. The foliage in this image – conifers in the background, ferns in the foreground – represents the types of plants found in Leonardo’s stomach. In the background, a tyrannosaur lunges at another Brachylophosaurus. Mural by Julius Csotonyi.

Dr. Bakker has been on the team that has been analyzing the fossil since 2002. According to him:

"Meeting Leonardo is a very moving, intimate experience. You will see every wrinkle and scale popping in the light, and then discover the internal organs of a creature that’s been dead for millions of years. You will leave convinced that these animals were very much alive.”

Leonardo is a young Brachylophosaurus, a two-legged, plant-eating duckbilled dinosaur, and is the first juvenile of this species ever discovered. He was approximately three or four years old when he died and would have been 20 feet long, weighing about 2,000 pounds. He was discovered on July 27, 2000 during the Judith River Foundation’s expedition in Malta.

The exhibit will also include an Ichthyosaur mummy with internal organs and four babies preserved inside and and the only mummified Triceratops skin ever found, which will also be on display for the first time.

The AP posted a short story on the exhibit, and the Great Falls Tribune did a wonderful feature this morning as well. There should be an article in the Houston Chronicle coming up soon. We'll post the link when it's live.


Anonymous said...

This is such an amazing find, and I'm excitedly looking forward to seeing it in person! I found a couple of pictures and articles about the dig from National Geographic. This picture in particular just blew me away:

Never had I thought that we would know what their skin texture really looked like, and there it is, preserved right there in the rock! Simply amazing.

SPEC said...

What is Bakker taking all the credit for Nate Murphy's and his teams discovery, excavation and preparation of Leonardo? -Matt in Houston

SPEC said...

Sorry for the typo...meant to say: WHY is Bakker taking all the credit for Leonardo when it was Nate Murphy's team that discovered, excavated and did the prep work on Leonardo?
-Matt in Houston "SPEC"

Erin said...

Hi Matt,

Many paleontologists have contributed to the Leonardo project, including Dr. Bakker - who is also the curator of paleontology for the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the museum which is developing the world premiere exhibit that will feature Leonardo for the first time.

He is also the official curator for the Leonardo exhibit itself, editor of the forthcoming book on Leonardo and chair of the curatorial committee of the High Plains Dinosaur Museum - which will be the permanent home for Leonardo after his display at HMNS.

This is certainly not to diminish the contributions of the many other paeontologists who have worked on the project, but rather to illustrate the nature of Dr. Bakker's involvement as curator and spokesperson for the exhibit that will feature Leonardo.

Thanks for reading the blog; if you have any other questions, please post them and we will get back to you.


erin said...

Hi again, Matt,

I also meant to leave this link for you - there is much more information about the project, the exhibit and the scientists involved. You can also check out

Thanks again,


SPEC said...


Thank you for your quick reply. I am a member of HMNS and live here in Houston. I have followed the story of Leonardo and his discovery. You mention " there is much more information about the project, the exhibit and the scientists involved"...I went to the list of scientists involved...There is absolutely no mention of Nate or Matt Murphy on the list...there are quite a few "volunteers" on the list that worked under Murphy on the dig, excavation and preparation of Leonardo.

My question is why are Nate and Matt Murphy not mentioned at all?

Here is a link to a Newsweek article on Nate Murphy and the discovery of Leonardo:

thanks, Matt Spector

Erin said...

Hi Matt,

Thank you for your support of HMNS - I am glad that you'll be able to see Leonardo close to home, especially since you've been following the story so closely.

The list posted on our Web site was provided to the Museum by the Judith River Foundation. There is contact information at the link above, if you would like to inquire with them about the list itself.

Thanks again,


SPEC said...


Go to the link you pointed me toward and see that Nate and Matt Murphy are on that list but no mention in any of HMNS links.

They led the Discovery, Excavation and Preparation of Leonardo, Not Bakker. Nate brought Bakker on board but Murphy deserves credit.

As a member of HMNS I expect our museum to present the facts about its exhibits....the fact is that Murphy deserves the credit for this discovery, excavation, Preparation and he presented Leonardo to SVP.

I am not concerned with the politics and legal issues that surround this specimen. As a follower of this discovery I want HMNS to present the facts and give credit to the right people.

Erin, if you and others at the Museum are not familar with the history of this discovery the web is filled with articles and videos discussing the Leonardo discovery, excavation and preparation led by Murphy.

Here is a link to the Dicovery Channel Interview with Murphy:

click heading "Dino mummy first to be discovered"

Leonardo link from Judith River Dinosaur Institute discovery of Leonardo:

more links:


thanks, Matt

SPEC said...

On The HMNS "Leonardo Facts" page the first bullet is not correct....."Leonardo was discovered on July 27, 2000 during the Judith River Foundation's expedition in Malta Montana" The correct fact: The Judith River Dinosaur Institute (JRDI) and its volunteers discovered, excavated and prepared Leonardo not the Judith River Foundation. The Judith River Foundation was not created until 2003 (by Nate Murphy) to house Leonardo and the other Specimens. JRDI funded everything including the lab until 2003.....The fact should read " Leonardo was discovered on July 27, 2000 during the Judith River Dinosaur Institute's Expedition led by Nate Murphy near Malta, MT...... HMNS needs to get the historical facts correct about Leonardo and present them to the public accordingly.

-Matt Spector

SPEC said...

We have been suporters of the HMNS for a long time. I had my rehearsal dinner for my wedding at the Museum. It is a great thing that Leonardo is coming to our museum. The significance of this dinosaur is incredible.....There must be a lot of behind the scenes issues surrounding all of the parties involved. Obviously, Nate Murphy is no longer affiliated with the Leonardo Project and the powers that be have their reasons for not including him in the information regarding the exhibit. I am a historian first and a paleo buff second. I think it is important for a museum such as HMNS to present the facts about the specimen even if it is a minor part of the overall exhibit. Nate Murphy and his team of volunteers from the Jusith River Dinosaur Institute did discover, excavate and prepare Leonardo and they should be given credit for this for historical accuracy. I know the HMNS press release information on Leonardo just went out recently. I am sure by the time September rolls around for the the Premiere of the exhibit credit will be given to all the people involved from the 2000 discovery to the present.

We are very lucky to have Leonardo come to our museum.


Erin said...

Hi Matt,

I can assure you that Dr. Bakker is in no way trying to take credit for the discovery of Leonardo - nor would we promote that impression. However, he is the HMNS curator of paleontology and the Judith River Foundation's chosen curator for the Leonardo exhibit - which is why he is featured prominently in our press materials for the exhibition.

Since we are working with the Judith River Foundation, we are also working with the information that they have provided to us regarding the history of the excavation, for the purposes of the exhibition.

I will certainly pass your concerns regarding the historical context of the fossil's discovery and excavation along to the people who are developing the exhibition.

Thank you,


Houston Museum of Natural Science said...

Hi Spec,

This is from Mark Thompson, one of the paleontologists that has worked on Leonardo since discovery:

"Hi Spec
Good to hear you again mate!
I appreciate your comments and know where you're coming from.
But regarding your concerns about roles in the Leonardo story, Dr.Bakker was actually an important part of the team since at least 2001, when I personally saw him being extensively consulted on many aspects of the discovery. Over the following years he continued to be a behind the scenes mentor and advisor on technical issues to management at the time.

I don't believe anyone is trying to change history here, because the facts are that Bakker was a Leonardo team member at an early stage even if he wasn't in the spotlight at the time. The way I see it he now has a valid and appropriately high role in the new exhibition, and will continue to be a great asset to the Leonardo dinosaur mummy fossil.


Mark Thompson"

Dan and Vivian's Wedding BlogSpot said...

Hello, I just read in the Chronicle that David Temple is hoping to bring people to do controlled digs in Malta. Where can we find more information on this sort of thing? Thanks!

Houston Museum of Natural Science said...

Hello! Thanks for reading the blog! This program is not yet available, but we do have a thriving paleontology volunteer program locally. For more information, please call 713-6369-4629 and ask for David Temple.

Thanks again for reading - you might also be interested in the Museum's new blog.

Dorothy said...

Sounds like an amazing experience to see the fossils in person. Only two more months to go.

Anonymous said...

Can you please contact me?

I am sure you guys get all kinds of inquiries like this...but, as strange as this may sound, my family was in Matagorda Bay this weekend and found something that looks exactly like a fossil/bone from a titanus walleris (sp?).

I did not believe it at first, but after my husband and I began doing some research - it's kinda wild how VERY similiar this bone/fossil looks like one from this bird.

If you can email me at - or you can get me in touch with one of the palentology staff members - I can send you pics - or bring it over to you guys (as we live in Houston). Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Just saw the "Dinosaur Mummy" special on Discovery Channel. Wow! What a story! I was intrigued by the sudden and unexplained departure of Nate Murphy from the project. Found the explanation, though, here: Which also perhaps accounts for why not much is being said about him officially in connection with this exhibit.

Anonymous said...

I just saw the Leonardo Project and was wondering about Nate Murphy and finally found this article --> Maybe reasons why the HMNS does not mention him.

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