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Duckbill mummy’s hand


After all this calculation of tail mechanics and foot areas has been done, that duckbill mummy's hand, that webbed forefoot raised forever skyward in its fourth-floor glass case at the American Museum of Natural History still requires an explanation. If it was not for swimming,(Dinsoaur factory) then what was it for? A dead camel I observed in the Transvaal might solve this mystery. While I was in South Africa studying the ancient mammal-like reptiles of the Permian Period, a colleague from Johannesburg Museum took me for a weekend outing to one of their famous parks. There were camels—though the species isn't native to South Africa. They had been imported for use in crossing desert regions and are popular exotic displays in the outdoor parks. Camels have thick cushiony pads under their toes, and these pads spread out under their owner's foot as they walk. In the course of our visit I happened upon a dead camel in an unkempt corner of the park. It lay like a desiccated mummy, all its natural juices evaporated by the hot Transvaal sun. The camel's mummification is not uncommon in such dry climates. (big size dinosaur)Beneath its outstretched feet, its cushions, plump and elastic in life, were now driedout bags of skin, which had flattened against the dusty soil surface. A spark of recognition shot through my brain. If camels were extinct and this carcass were found covered by flood-borne sand, wouldn't paleontologists conclude that the camel had webbed toes? The flattened skin of its paws created the perfect imitation of a web.


The skin of the duckbill's paws was not marked by calluses the way camels' paw skin is. But the way the duckbill mummies are preserved permits the hypothesis that in life those flattened hands were in reality plump, rounded cushions of connective tissue—elastic shock absorbers for the impact of the ground on the wrist when the animal moved fast over hard ground. (life like dinosaur)Duckbill forepaws were so narrow and compact that a paw cushion would do invaluable service by lessening the load of impact within the joints of the toes. Fossil duckbill trackways, just now being excavated in Canada, suggest that indeed this line of reasoning may be correct. The forepaw impressions resemble smooth crescents, as though the individual toes were all imbedded within a single, insulating mitten. There is definitely no sign of a spreading ducklike web.


This may be the true solution to the century-old mystery of the mummy's hand. That brown withered paw may have misled four generations of paleontologists into believing in a series of nonexistent adaptations for swimming. (real size dinosaurs)The mummy's hand, when alive and full of healthy tissue, may have worn a shock-absorbing glove, an earth-mitten entirely designed for walking on dry ground.

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