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A fossilised leg of a dinosaur that died on the day the Chicxulub asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago has been unearthed alongside a fragment of the space rock that killed it, experts have revealed. 

The leg fossil, found at the Tanis site in North Dakota, belonged to Thescelosaurus, a small herbivore, and is likely to have been ripped off after the asteroid hit and caused a flash flood. 

Palaeontologists say it’s the first dinosaur victim of the famous asteroid strike – which left a 93-mile-wide impact crater in what is today the Gulf of Mexico – that has ever been discovered. 

They think they’ve also unearthed a tiny fragment from the asteroid, which totalled more than six miles in diameter when it struck Earth, ending the era of the dinosaurs.   

The remarkable discoveries were made by University of Manchester palaeontologist Robert DePalma at a dig site known as Tanis in North Dakota.

They could provide the first ever physical evidence that dinosaurs were killed by an asteroid strike at the end of the Cretaceous Period. 

A new BBC documentary presented by Sir David Attenborough to be aired next week will reveal several new findings at Tanis. 

The fossilised leg (pictured) once belonging to a dinosaur known as Thescelosaurus was likely ripped off in a flood, according to researchers

The fossilised leg (pictured) once belonging to a dinosaur known as Thescelosaurus was likely ripped off in a flood, according to researchers

The fossilised leg (pictured) once belonging to a dinosaur known as Thescelosaurus was likely ripped off in a flood, according to researchers

Spherules (glass beads of Earth rock) rained down from the sky less than an hour after the famous Chicxulub impact event and are now preserved at Tanis

Spherules (glass beads of Earth rock) rained down from the sky less than an hour after the famous Chicxulub impact event and are now preserved at Tanis

Spherules (glass beads of Earth rock) rained down from the sky less than an hour after the famous Chicxulub impact event and are now preserved at Tanis 

The Chicxulub asteroid slammed into a shallow sea in what is today the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a crater spanning 93 miles in diameter and 12 miles in depth

The Chicxulub asteroid slammed into a shallow sea in what is today the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a crater spanning 93 miles in diameter and 12 miles in depth

The Chicxulub asteroid slammed into a shallow sea in what is today the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a crater spanning 93 miles in diameter and 12 miles in depth 

THESCELOSAURUS: ‘WONDERFUL LIZARD’

– Diet: Herbivorous

When it lived: Late Cretaceous (76-67 million years ago)

Found in: Canada, US 

Type of dinosaur: Euornithopod

– Length: 11.4 feet (3.5m) 

Source: Natural History Museum  

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‘This is the most incredible thing that we could possibly imagine here, the best case scenario….The one thing that we always wanted to find in this site and here we’ve got it,’ said DePalma.

The findings were reported by the BBC after the corporation and Sir David Attenborough were granted exclusive access to the site for the documentary.

Entitled ‘Dinosaurs: The Final Day with David Attenborough’, the documentary will be aired on BBC One on Friday, April 15. 

Filmed over the course of three years at Tanis, the documentary will also give the public a first glimpse of other historic findings.

These will include fish that breathed in impact debris, a fossilised turtle that was skewered by a wooden stake and skin from a horned triceratops. 

‘We’ve got so many details with this site that tell us what happened moment by moment, it’s almost like watching it play out in the movies,’ DePalma told the BBC.

‘You look at the rock column, you look at the fossils there, and it brings you back to that day.’   

Researchers will submit their findings for peer-review so they can be confirmed, before being published in journals.  

Professor Paul Barrett at the Natural History Museum in London said the preserved leg once belonged to a dinosaur in the Thescelosaurus genus, a name that translates as ‘wonderful lizard’. 

The findings were reported by the BBC after the corporation and Sir David Attenborough (pictured) were granted exclusive access to the site. Here, Sir Attenborough studies skin from a horned triceratops

The findings were reported by the BBC after the corporation and Sir David Attenborough (pictured) were granted exclusive access to the site. Here, Sir Attenborough studies skin from a horned triceratops

The findings were reported by the BBC after the corporation and Sir David Attenborough (pictured) were granted exclusive access to the site. Here, Sir Attenborough studies skin from a horned triceratops

Palaeontologist Robert DePalma studies one of the fossils in a lab in North Dakota. Researchers will submit their findings for peer-review so they can be confirmed, before being published in journals

Palaeontologist Robert DePalma studies one of the fossils in a lab in North Dakota. Researchers will submit their findings for peer-review so they can be confirmed, before being published in journals

Palaeontologist Robert DePalma studies one of the fossils in a lab in North Dakota. Researchers will submit their findings for peer-review so they can be confirmed, before being published in journals

‘It’s from a group that we didn’t have any previous record of what its skin looked like, and it shows very conclusively that these animals were very scaly like lizards,’ Professor Barrett told the BBC. ‘They weren’t feathered like their meat-eating contemporaries.

‘This looks like an animal whose leg has simply been ripped off really quickly. There’s no evidence on the leg of disease, there are no obvious pathologies, there’s no trace of the leg being scavenged, such as bite marks or bits of it that are missing. 

‘So, the best idea that we have is that this is an animal that died more or less instantaneously.’    

It’s already well known that the dinosaurs were wiped out by the Chicxulub impact event – a plummeting asteroid or comet that slammed into a shallow sea in what is today the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico around 66 million years ago. 

Ian Kellett on location in Tanis, North Dakota filming one of the new findings - skin from a horned triceratops - whilst still in the ground

Ian Kellett on location in Tanis, North Dakota filming one of the new findings - skin from a horned triceratops - whilst still in the ground

Ian Kellett on location in Tanis, North Dakota filming one of the new findings – skin from a horned triceratops – whilst still in the ground

Picture shows palaeontologist Robert DePalma working on a fossil at the Tanis dig site - which formed at the time of impact - in North Dakota US

Picture shows palaeontologist Robert DePalma working on a fossil at the Tanis dig site - which formed at the time of impact - in North Dakota US

Picture shows palaeontologist Robert DePalma working on a fossil at the Tanis dig site – which formed at the time of impact – in North Dakota US

DePalma told the BBC: 'We've got so many details with this site that tell us what happened moment by moment, it's almost like watching it play out in the movies'

DePalma told the BBC: 'We've got so many details with this site that tell us what happened moment by moment, it's almost like watching it play out in the movies'

DePalma told the BBC: ‘We’ve got so many details with this site that tell us what happened moment by moment, it’s almost like watching it play out in the movies’ 

For those not killed directly by the impact, the collision released a huge dust and soot cloud that triggered global climate change, wiping out 75 per cent of all animal and plant species.    

All non-avian dinosaurs, pterosaurs, ammonites and most marine reptiles disappeared, whilst mammals, birds, crocodiles and turtles survived. 

When the asteroid impacted Earth, it rocked the continental plate and caused huge waves in water bodies, such as rivers and lakes. 

Entitled 'Dinosaurs: The Final Day with David Attenborough', the documentary will be aired on BBC One on Friday, April 15

Entitled 'Dinosaurs: The Final Day with David Attenborough', the documentary will be aired on BBC One on Friday, April 15

Entitled ‘Dinosaurs: The Final Day with David Attenborough’, the documentary will be aired on BBC One on Friday, April 15

The Chicxulub impact is widely believed to have caused the mass extinction event which made non-avian dinosaurs extinct (concept image)

The Chicxulub impact is widely believed to have caused the mass extinction event which made non-avian dinosaurs extinct (concept image)

The Chicxulub impact is widely believed to have caused the mass extinction event which made non-avian dinosaurs extinct (concept image)

These moved enormous volumes of sediment that engulfed fish and buried them alive, while impact spherules (glass beads of Earth rock) rained down from the sky, less than an hour after impact.     

Earlier this year, scientists announced that the Chicxulub impact event occurred in the northern hemisphere’s spring.

They studied bones of six fish that died less than 60 minutes after the asteroid impacted, recovered from Tanis, to reveal secrets about time of death.   

KILLING OFF THE DINOSAURS: HOW A CITY-SIZED ASTEROID WIPED OUT 75 PER CENT OF ALL ANIMAL AND PLANT SPECIES

Around 66 million years ago non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out and more than half the world’s species were obliterated.

This mass extinction paved the way for the rise of mammals and the appearance of humans.

The Chicxulub asteroid is often cited as a potential cause of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event.

The asteroid slammed into a shallow sea in what is now the Gulf of Mexico.

The collision released a huge dust and soot cloud that triggered global climate change, wiping out 75 per cent of all animal and plant species.

Researchers claim that the soot necessary for such a global catastrophe could only have come from a direct impact on rocks in shallow water around Mexico, which are especially rich in hydrocarbons.

Within 10 hours of the impact, a massive tsunami waved ripped through the Gulf coast, experts believe.

Around 66 million years ago non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out and more than half the world's species were obliterated. The Chicxulub asteroid is often cited as a potential cause of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (stock image)

Around 66 million years ago non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out and more than half the world's species were obliterated. The Chicxulub asteroid is often cited as a potential cause of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (stock image)

Around 66 million years ago non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out and more than half the world’s species were obliterated. The Chicxulub asteroid is often cited as a potential cause of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (stock image)

This caused earthquakes and landslides in areas as far as Argentina. 

While investigating the event researchers found small particles of rock and other debris that was shot into the air when the asteroid crashed.

Called spherules, these small particles covered the planet with a thick layer of soot.

Experts explain that losing the light from the sun caused a complete collapse in the aquatic system.

This is because the phytoplankton base of almost all aquatic food chains would have been eliminated.

It’s believed that the more than 180 million years of evolution that brought the world to the Cretaceous point was destroyed in less than the lifetime of a Tyrannosaurus rex, which is about 20 to 30 years.

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Source: dailymail

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