Aug 20, 2019 | Updated: 11:45 AM EDT

A Cornucopia of Fossils Reveals the End for Dinosaurs

Mar 31, 2019 11:01 PM EDT


We're all familiar with the stories about the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, the moment when the giant lizard species went from the top of the food chain to creatures of a world no more. Now, scientists in the US say they have discovered the fossilized remains of a mass of creatures that died minutes after that huge asteroid slammed into the Earth 66 million years ago, sealing the fate of the dinosaurs. "Its an incredible mash-up of fish, animals and plant life that was flash-preserved in the moments after the asteroid impact that probably killed the dinosaurs," researchers stated.

A team of paleontologists headquartered at the University of Kansas say they found a "mother lode of exquisitely preserved animal and fish fossils" in what is now North Dakota. The asteroid's impact in what is now Mexico was the most cataclysmic event in Earth's history, eradicating 75 percent of the planet's animal and plant species, extinguishing the dinosaurs and paving the way for the rise of humans.

"It's difficult not to get choked up and passionate about this topic," said lead author Robert DePalma, a KU doctoral student in geology who works in the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. "We look at moment-by-moment records of one of the most notable impact events in Earth's history. No other site has a record quite like that. And this particular event is tied directly to all of us - to every mammal on Earth, in fact. Because this is essentially where we inherited the planet. Nothing was the same after that impact. It became a planet of mammals rather than a planet of dinosaurs."

Researchers believe the impact set off fast-moving, seismic surges that triggered a sudden, massive torrent of water and debris from an arm of an inland sea known as the Western Interior Seaway. Some of the fish fossils were found to have inhaled "ejecta" associated with the Chicxulub event, suggesting seismic surges reached North Dakota within a matter of minutes. "The sedimentation happened so quickly; everything is preserved in three dimensions, they're not crushed," said co-author David Burnham preparator of vertebrate paleontology at the KU Biodiversity Institute.

"We've understood that bad things happened right after the impact, but nobody's found this kind of smoking-gun evidence," said Burnham in a statement. "People have said, 'We get that this blast killed the dinosaurs, but why don't we have dead bodies everywhere?' Well, now we have bodies. They're not dinosaurs, but I think those will eventually be found, too."

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