Discovery Channel
Dr. Bob Bakker, left, examines the mummified remains of Leonardo in a negative air chamber.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — "Secrets of the Dinosaur Mummy" shows us a dinosaur like we've never seen before.

The 77 million-year-old duckbill named Leonardo found in Montana isn't a fossil. It's an actual dinosaur that was so well preserved that 90 percent of his body is still covered in skin. The contents of his stomach have been examined. Scans have been done to show us his internal organs.

"This is really the specimen that's going to change paleontology," said Michael Jorgensen, who produced the special for the Discovery Channel. "It's a new dividing line in the sand that I really believe after this it will be sort of pre- and post-Leonardo because ... when you go into the museum, you see a skeleton and there's lots of missing information. Now we have an entire body. It's the body of a dinosaur with skin and internal organs."

Even for the non-dinosaur enthusiasts among us, this is pretty cool stuff. The one-hour special (Sunday, 10 p.m., Discovery) shows us the mummified dinosaur, gives us a look at what the various scans show and demonstrates — via computer-generated images — what Leonardo's life (and death) were like.

"This film is sort of 'ER' meets 'CSI' meets 'Jurassic Park,' but funny," said Dr. Robert T. Bakker, visiting curator of Paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Leonardo — so named because of graffiti found near where amateur paleontologists found him — is a duck-billed Brachylophosaurus. He was about 3 to 4 years old, 20 feet long and 2,000 pounds when he died .

"One of the big revelations that came out of when we went to the Johnson Space Center was that we found very unexpectedly that, right before Leo had died, he had been wounded very severely in his side by one of these carnivores," Jorgensen said.

It's one of a series of revelations that come from non-invasive scientific wizardry.

"We were a little bit afraid that would try or somebody would come along and try to cut him open, perhaps, and that was done in the past, and we wanted to apply nondestructive testing studies to the dinosaur," said imaging expert Arthur Anderson. "So what we did is we did a white-light scan. So now we have a complete, very accurate, digital image of the dinosaur plus the fact that using high-powered X-rays — I'm talking X-rays that are 5,000 times more than what you would find in a dentist's office — to look inside him.

"This guy is 2 feet thick, and it took several hours down at NASA to actually image some of these internal organs that we find."

Bakker is incredibly excited about the discovery, and his enthusiasm jumps off the screen.

"What makes this profound is that I certainly had never dared to hope that we'd get inside to the digestive machinery," Bakker said. "Now, T-Rex is famous, (the) No. 1 favorite dinosaur because it was strong enough to bite Buicks in half and swallow them.

"But, in fact, it's the plant-eaters that rule the ecosystem now and did back then. This is a duck bill, the most common and diverse family of dinosaurs.... understand our own evolution of the crustaceans to the whole ecosystem, you've got to look at these animals that cropped and chopped, and now we have, not the smoking gun, but the smoking stomach and the smoking intestines. We know how they chopped, and they chopped very efficiently."

(The show is a whole lot less gross than the image of smoking innards might suggest.)

And Leonardo's stomach contents provide "a whole snapshot of the ecosystem that he lived in. So we now know what kind of leaves he was eating. He was eating leaves off trees, ferns off the ground. His body gives us a glimpse of dinosaur biology and physiology but it paints this beautiful picture of the environment of the world that he lived in.

"Montana at that time was very much like it would be around New Orleans and Mississippi. It was lush, rich delta, and his body gives us all of those kinds of details."


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com