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Museum displays fossil of dinosaurs locked in combat

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In this view of the fighting dinosaurs fossil, a protoceratops crouches over a velociraptor, which fights back with its oversized talons  

May 17, 2000
Web posted at: 5:04 p.m. EDT (2104 GMT)

(CNN) -- A deadly velociraptor thrusts a claw into the neck of a heavily armored protoceratops, which has bitten the arm of its adversary. Locked in mortal combat for 80 million years, the fossilized foes are considered among the greatest dinosaur finds ever.

The two lead a stampede of Mongolian dinosaurs invading New York for a long prehistoric summer and shaking the foundations of natural history.

The rare finds, which include nesting parents, embryos and hatchlings, have reshaped scientific theories on the behavior and evolution of the Cretaceous creatures.

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Animation of velociraptor taunting protoceratops before their battle begins
994 K / 21.03 sec. / 240x180

Animation of the two dinosaurs engaged in mortal combat
1,324 K / 22 sec. / 240x180

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"A number of them don't even have names yet," said Mark Norell, chief paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

Discovered in the Gobi desert, the dinosaur specimens will make their North American debut Friday at the New York museum. Media representatives were given a preview earlier in the week.

The remarkable centerpiece of the exhibition, the skeletons of two dinosaurs preserved in a deadly fight, has been designated a national treasure of Mongolia.

The velociraptor, a fierce carnivore about the size of a coyote, embeds a huge hind talon in the crouching protoceratops. With its right arm, the velociraptor grips the shielded head of its foe.

The plant-eating protoceratops, a cousin of the triceratops, seems to have used its powerful jaws to break the velociraptor's left arm.

A collapsing sand dune may have buried the two combatants, according to the museum. They remained entombed in the white sandstone cliffs of the southern Gobi desert until a team of Polish and Mongolian scientists unearthed them in 1971. Large-screen computer animations created by the museum bring the dueling dinos to life.

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Another view of the fossil  

Showcasing the recent work of paleontologists with the museum and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, the exhibition reflects the latest views on dinosaur traits, behavior and evolutionary links to birds.

Some specimens are displayed along with fleshed-out models complete with feathers, based on discoveries made only two years ago in China.

Paleontologists have pieced together a picture of life in the Gobi region in the late Cretaceous period from the discoveries, many of which were made in the past decade.

Several animals on display were previously unknown to science, like a new troödontid dinosaur named Byronosaurus jaffei. Some have improved their reputations considerably based on recent finds. Oviraptors were once considered egg thieves because of their presence near nests.

But paleontologists studying some of the Mongolian finds realized the dinosaurs were "sitting on top of their nests, brooding their eggs like modern birds do," Norell said.

Other dinosaurs were perhaps protective parents as well, based on egg, hatchling and juvenile fossil finds displayed at the exhibit. According to the museum, "Fighting Dinosaurs: New Discoveries from Mongolia" also offers the finest finds ever of another late Cretaceous class: the mammals. The exhibit lasts until October 29.



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RELATED SITES:
American Museum of Natural History


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