Dinosaur and pterosaur skeletons are often found in this characteristic posture: head thrown back, hind limbs bent, tail extended. The “dead dinosaur posture” is found in other fossils too—the best known being the fossil bird Archaeopteryx shown here. There are so many fossils found in this posture that a recent article in New Scientist said there are “Too many, in fact, to be a coincidence.”

This is not news to paleontologists. The question of why so many fossils exhibit this posture “has troubled paleontologists for more than a century”. In his 1927 book on taphonomy (i.e. how dead organisms are thought to have been buried and fossilized), German geologist Yohannes Weigelt suggested that the “dead dinosaur posture” was caused by the contraction of the tendons as the dead animal dries out. Others have proposed “diving into mud and becoming stuck”, dying while asleep, rigor mortis, dehydration in salt water, and being dragged into position by moving water.

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