Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Exceptional soft-tissue preservation in a theropod dinosaur from Italy


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: The holotype of Scipionyx samniticus, sp. nov., fossilized in a beige limestone from the Lower Cretaceous (Albian) of Pietraroia (Benevento, southern Italy).
Figure 2: Scipionyx samniticus 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).


  1. Bravi, S. & De Castro, P. The Cretaceous fossil fishes level of Capo d'Orlando, near Castellammare di Stabia (NA): biostratigraphy and depositional environment. Mem. Sci. Geol. 47, 45–72 (1995).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bravi, S. Contributo allo studio del giacimento ad ittioliti di Pietraroja (Benevento)(Thesis, Dip. Geol. Univ. Napoli “Federico II”, (1987)).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Leonardi, G. & Teruzzi, G. Prima segnalazione di uno scheletro fossile di dinosauro (Theropoda, Coelurosauria) in Italia (Cretacico di Pietraroia, Benevento). Paleocronache 1993, 7–14 (1993).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Leonardi, G. & Avanzini, M. Dinosauri in Italia. Le Scienze (Quaderni) 76, 69–81 (1994).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Signore, M. Il teropode del Plattenkalk della Civita di Pietraroia (Cretaceo inferiore, Bn)(Thesis, Dip. Paleont. Univ. Napoli “Federico II”, (1995)).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Seilacher, A. Begriff und Bedentung der Fossil-Lagerstätten. N. Jb. Geol. Paläont. Mh. Jahr. 1970, 34–39 (1970).

  7. Kellner, A. Fossilized theropod soft tissue. Nature 379, 32 (1996).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Ji, Q. & Ji, S. On discovery of the earliest bird fossil in China and the origin of birds. Chinese Geol. 233, 30–33 (1996).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Ostrom, J. H. The osteology of Compsognathus longipes Wagner. Zitteliana 4, 73–118 (1978).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Benton, M. J. in The Dinosauria(eds Weishampel, D. B., Dodson, P. & Osmólska, H.) 11–30 (Univ. California, Berkeley, (1990).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Gauthier, J. in Mem. Calif. Acad. Sci.(ed. Padian, K.) 8, 1–55 (1986).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Holtz, T. R. J The phylogenetic position of the Tyrannosauridae: implications for theropod systematics. J. Paleontol. 68, 1100–1117 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Holtz, T. R. J Phylogenetic taxonomy of the Coelurosauria (Dinosauria: Theropoda). J. Paleontol. 70, 536–538 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Norell, M. A. et al. Atheropod dinosaur embryo and the affinities of the Flaming Cliffs dinosaur eggs. Science 266, 779–782 (1994).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Colbert, E. H. in Dinosaur Systematics(eds Carpenter, K. & Currie, P. J.) 81–90 (Cambridge Univ. Press, (1990)).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  16. Molnar, R. E. in Dinosaur Systematics(eds Carpenter, K. & Currie, P. J.) 71–79 (Cambridge Univ. Press, (1990)).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  17. Ostrom, J. H. Osteology of Deinonychus antirrhopus, an unusual theropod from the Lower Cretaceous of Montana. Bull. Peabody Mus. Nat. Hist. 30, 1–165 (1969).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Currie, P. J. & Zhao, X. Anew carnosaur (Dinosauria, Theropoda) from the Jurassic of Xinjiang, People's Republic of China. Can. J. Earth Sci. 30, 2037–2081 (1993).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  19. Currie, P. J. et al. in Dinosaur Systematics(eds Carpenter, K. & Currie, P. J.) 107–125 (Cambridge Univ. Press, (1990)).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  20. Currie, P. J. New information on the anatomy and relationships of Dromaeosaurus albertensis (Dinosauria: Theropoda). J. Vert. Paleontol. 15, 576–591 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Witmer, L. M. & Maxwell, W. D. The skull of Deinonychus (Dinosauria: Theropoda): new insights and implications. J. Vert. Paleontol. 16, 73A (1996).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Russell, D. A. & Dong, Z. Anearly complete skeleton of a new troodontid dinosaur from the Early Cretaceous of the Ordos Basin, Inner Mongolia, People's Republic of China. Can. J. Earth. Sci. 30, 2163–2173 (1993).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  23. Barsbold, R. & Osmólska, H. in The Dinosauria(eds Weishampel, D. B., Dodson, P. & Osmólska, H.) 225–244 (Univ. California, Berkeley, (1990)).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Norman, D. B. in The Dinosauria(eds Weishampel, D. B., Dodson, P. & Osmólska, H.) 280–305 (Univ. California, Berkeley, (1990)).

    Google Scholar 

  25. Paul, G. S. Predatory Dinosaurs of the World 1–464 (Simon & Schuster, (1988)).

    Google Scholar 

  26. Gatesy, S. M. in Functional Morphology in Vertebrate Paleontology(ed. Thomason, J.) 219–234 (Cambridge Univ. Press, (1995)).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Guibé, J. Traité de Zoologie 14-II(ed. Grassé, P. P.) 521–548 (Masson, (1970)).

    Google Scholar 

  28. Wellnhofer, P. in The Beginning of Birds(eds Hecht, M. K., Ostrom, J. H., Viohl, G. & Wellnhofer, P.) 113–122 (Freunde des Jura-Museums, Eichstätt, (1985)).

    Google Scholar 

  29. Bryant, H. N. & Russell, A. P. The occurrence of clavicles within Dinosauria: implications for the homology of the avian furcula and the utility of negative evidence. J. Vert. Paleontol. 13, 171–184 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Norell, M. A. et al. AVelociraptor wishbone. Nature 389, 447 (1997).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cristiano Dal Sasso.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sasso, C., Signore, M. Exceptional soft-tissue preservation in a theropod dinosaur from Italy. Nature 392, 383–387 (1998).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing