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Exceptional soft-tissue preservation in a theropod dinosaur from Italy

Abstract

The Lower Cretaceous Pietraroia Plattenkalk (Benevento Province, southern Italy) has been known since the eighteenth century for its beautifully preserved fossil fishes. During Albian time (about 113 Myr ago1), deposition of fine marly limestone in a shallow lagoonal environment, affected by cyclic periods of low oxygen levels2, led to exceptional preservation of soft tissue in a juvenile theropod. The specimen, diagnosed here as Scipionyx samniticus gen. et sp. nov., is the first dinosaur ever to be found in Italy. The fossil has been mentioned previously in two brief notes3,4 and generally examined in a doctoral thesis5. Here we report the full preparation of the specimen which shows details of soft anatomy never seen previously in any dinosaur. The preservation is better than in other lagerstätten (conservative deposits)6 where theropod soft tissue has been reported, such as the Santana Formation of Brazil7 and the Yixian Formation of China8. Despite this, there is no evidence of feathers or any other integumentary remnants in the Italian specimen. Scipionyx represents a new maniraptoriform theropod. Its discovery is remarkable considering also the scarcity of juvenile theropod dinosaurs in the fossil record.

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Figure 1: The holotype of Scipionyx samniticus, gen.et sp. nov., fossilized in a beige limestone from the Lower Cretaceous (Albian) of Pietraroia (Benevento, southern Italy).
Figure 2: Scipionyx samniticus gen.et sp. nov.
Figure 3: Close-up of the skull of Scipionyx.
Figure 4: Sketch of the skull of Scipionyx shown in Fig. 3
Figure 5: Close-up of the abdomen of Scipionyx, showing the perfectly fossilized intestine (left) and a reddish macula that might represent the remains of the liver (right).

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Acknowledgements

We thank P. J. Currie and M. J. Benton for critical revision of the manuscript; C.Barbera, L. Chiappe, P. Makovicky, M. Norell, M. Novacek, E. Koppelhus, E.Nicholls, A. Kotsakis, D.Maxwell, R. Molnar, G. Pasini, E. Signore, G. Todesco, and L. Witmer; G.Leonardi for his encouragement; S. Rampinelli for the superb preparation of the specimen; G. Teruzzi, Dinosaur Project coordinator; and G. Tocco for allowing us to study the specimen. Photographs are by L.Vitola; drawings are by F. Fogliazza.

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Correspondence to Cristiano Dal Sasso.

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Sasso, C., Signore, M. Exceptional soft-tissue preservation in a theropod dinosaur from Italy. Nature 392, 383–387 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/32884

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