The Hadrosaur

copyright © Lawrence Turner, 2001

Eeeeeeewaaan took another bite of the fern frond and slowly chewed it. Actually, that was not her name, but she recognized that sound when her mother called. Indeed, she did not have an understanding of what a name is.

The world in which she lived was generally a friendly environment for her, but humans would have found it extremely uncomfortable. The hot humid air helped keep Eeeeeeewaaan's body warm and her skin moist. The vegetation upon which she browsed grew lush from the bottom of the shallow water where she grazed. The soft fern was an enjoyable break from the coarse leaves and needles that made up the majority of her diet. Around her were others of her species also eating in the early morning. She could see the ones near her, and their contentment kept her from being afraid. She could hear the snorts, bleats, and calls from the much larger herd that they continually made as they ate. They all moved slowly in the early morning until the sun's heat on their backs warmed them from the cool of the night. Later as the sun rose higher and heat on their backs grew, they would move to the shade of the trees at the edge of the swampy area where they splashed through the water. For her it was a perfect world except for the carnivores that occasionally prowled the region.

Eeeeeeewaaan was not like any creature that we have seen. Her world was long ago. We would call her and her kind an Edmontosaurus, a species of hadrosaur, a duck-billed dinosaur. The large carnivores that threatened her were the very same that excites us, a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

She would not have lived to grow into the young, almost an adult, dinosaur that she was except for the protection and care for her mother. Even before she hatched, her mother had stood guard over the clutch of eggs. As an infant her mother had protected her and showed her the proper food. She had learned the calls her mother made that signaled danger and to come. She, of course, could distinguish her mother's call from the seemingly indistinguishable sounds and calls of the other adult hadrosaurs that all lived in the region.

However, even now the trumpeting calls of the young males as they sought mates did not produce any reaction. That would change in a few years!

This morning she felt no anxiety about a predator. There was no alarming scents in the morning air, and she was near the center of a large herd of other hadrosaurs and other herbivorous dinosaurs. It was when she was near the edge of the group that the danger was the greatest. She did not know that in any well thought out way, but somehow she felt more at ease within the group.

She did not anticipate her death nor could she have understood it. Perhaps some of the signs were there that morning as she chewed her breakfast, but she had never experienced them and thus did not recognize them as a threat. Her first conscious indication was the wall of water that struck her. The force knocked the air from her lungs and violently shoved her off her feet. It covered her in a fluid of churning water, mud, and other debris. The initial impact broke a number of bones, but her mind did not sense the pain as she struggled in panic to regain her footing and get a breath of air. She never made it. Unconsciousness came quickly and mercifully as the debris battered her body.

The material tore at what was left of her inert body, rolling it and tearing at it. Eventually, the motion settled down and her broken body was left buried. Mud and silt from the water settled out and covered all of her remains. While pieces of her were scattered, for the most part her remains all ended up near each other. It, of course, was no consolation to her, but she was buried with the entire herd of hadrosaurs. And their feared enemies were also all dead.

Time passed, the flesh from around her bones disintegrated. The remaining water above the mud that surrounded her bones eventually drained away. What was left of her was buried under many feet of material. Minerals from the surrounding matter moved into the bones replacing and filling the organic structure. The mud hardened as it dried and was compressed. Occasionally, a faraway earthquake shook the region and her bones, now brittle, would crack as the surrounding earth settled and shifted.

The region changed. Geological forces caused the entire area to be uplifted. As rain fell on the surface, it ran down the slopes, finding weak areas in the rocks and eroding canyons and gullies. Much of the material that covered her eroded away. Her bones that were once on the top of the surface when she was alive, that were deeply buried, now were close to surface. It was a surface world that she would not have recognized nor felt comfortable in. The temperature, the humidity, and the vegetation were all wrong not only for her comfort but her very survival. The land was covered with grasses that were not a part of her world; grasses that her mouth was not designed to eat successfully. The animals that grazed on the land and the predators that hunted the would have been completely unrecognizable to her. Perhaps her size as an adult would have been sufficient protection from the animal hunters, but she would have never lived from infancy. The dramatic changes of seasons from the heat of summer to the snows of winter were something she never experienced. If she had been alive, the first few cold nights in the autumn would have killed her.

While deeply buried, there were only small changes in her bones. But near the surface, roots from the plants above would grow down and finding pieces of bone would transport the remaining bone minerals away for nutrients for the growing plant. In time the bone would become almost indistinguishable from the surrounding soil.

It was a foot that first broke the surface of the earth to have the light from the sun hit it. Actually, it was one of several foot bones that happened to be originally buried together. Once the bone reached the surface, it disintegrated quickly. Large grazing animals would step on the bone which would either crack it into small fragments that could be washed away during the next storm or dislodge it and send it rolling down the hillside. Even if nothing like that disturbed it, the erosive forces of the wind and rain and freezing ice in the winter would conspire to reduce the bone to small chunks that could never be fit together, and these processes would wash away the surrounding earth which would further scatter the pieces.

In time the surface of the earth eroded away so that the end of a femur, or thigh bone became exposed. And, the bone itself began to erode quickly. In a relatively short time, this remnant of a beautiful living creature that had been preserved over long periods of time would be totally lost. In the time span of human life perhaps the majority of the bones, if not all, could be completely weathered away and destroyed.

Two things happened, both necessary, that resulted in her being preserved. The first was that the bones were recognized as dinosaur bones by the owner of the land. The second is that he contacted a paleontologist who in turned recognized the scientific value.