Scientists say they might have finally figured out how a graveyard of different dinosaurs, birds and early mammal fossils ended up buried in a lake bed in northern China.
The mass grave, as LiveScience calls it, contains shockingly well-preserved fossils. No one has been able to determine how the animals died — until now.
A new study published in the journal Nature Communications suggests a series of volcanic eruptions, like the one that destroyed the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, killed and buried the creatures more than 120 million years ago. (Via BBC)
National Geographic reports researchers from China's Nanjing University analyzed some of the fossils and the surrounding sediment. They found the skeletons were embedded in fast-moving flows of hot ash and gas, otherwise known as pyroclastic flows.
According to Discovery, researchers also noticed the fossils' postures supported the death-by-volcano theory. And their bones were covered in black streaks, which suggests that charring occurred at some point.
One of the scientists involved in the research put it more bluntly, telling LiveScience: "What we're talking about in this case is literal charring, like somebody got put in the grill. They got fried."
But the Smithsonian points out it wasn't just any old volcanic eruption that killed the creatures.
"Most likely, what killed the ... creatures was a pyroclastic density current — a wave of hot gas emitted from a volcano that can move up to 450 miles per hour. Such natural belchings are nature's equivalent to chemical warfare or an atom bomb: uncompromisingly deadly, destructive and powerful." (Via Smithsonian)
The researchers say eruptions like this one are pretty common throughout history — think Mount St. Helens or Krakatoa. (Via History Channel)
The study's authors say, because the fossils are so well-preserved, they provide a rare and interesting opportunity to study the Early Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystem.