Finding an intact skeleton of a dinosaur is rare enough: some of the famous specimens that look complete actually aren’t, with gaps filled in by guesswork, or from other skeletons. Partial finds are much more common — but even then, compared to all the dinosaurs that ever lived, the number that survive in some form as fossils is tiny. Every find provides new clues: an impression of skin, the hint of a feather, the presence or absence of marks which tell us how dinosaurs stood or walked.
This book is about the holy grail of paleontology: mummies, i.e. remains with soft tissue preservation. They can tell us an astonishing number of things about a corpse, and they can even include preserved biological molecules that can be tested — perhaps even DNA. This book goes through the past discoveries which have fuelled hope for soft tissue preservation, and given a lot of food for research in themselves, but the main point is an almost totally preserved specimen from Dakota. It includes background into the research and the discovery, and then a few chapters on what’s happening now. Frustratingly, it went to print before the research was complete, so readers might be left wondering if the Dakota mummy was ever successfully scanned, etc, and what that might have revealed.
It’s very much a work on an evolving situation: there’s more to learn from Dakota than is contained in these pages. That’s for sure. But that could be the case for years and years to come, so I’m glad this book exists and is accessible to laypeople.