A great many dinosaur skeletons have been found around the world in what has been named “opisthotonic pose” i.e. the head thrown backwards, body arched and tail arched upwards. No one knows exactly why this death pose is so frequent, but theories have never lacked.
Many paleontologists believed dinosaurs died in water and the currents drifted the bones into that position.1 Veterinarians have rejected this theory which to them made no sense, even more so since the pose also was found in fossil birds and mammals. To test the water burial theory Faux made experiments on dead quails immersed in salt water and concluded they do not assume the opisthotonic pose. Faux and Padian therefore concluded that it is damage to the central nervous system, possibly caused by bacteria or some sort of intoxication, that caused the muscles to contract so peculiarly.
Recent research reverses that conclusion.2 Scientists at Brigham Young University in Utah placed plucked chickens in cool fresh water and their necks arched and heads were thrown backward within seconds! Nobody knows why the two studies have yielded diametrically opposed results and whether salt plays a role in it, but it is being speculated.
There is another aspect regarding dinosaur fossils: besides their death pose, the sediments they are found in also reveal water deposition, usually in flooding conditions3 with the bones revealing violent transport.4 At Dinosaur National Monument in Utah there is a beautiful dinosaur skeleton in a classical opisthotonic pose—the predatory Allosaurus jimmadseni (Photo left). Not only is the animal’s head missing, but its tail is broken close to the body and lies parallel to the body under the feet with the thicker part right under the chest. Many other dinosaur fossils in the site’s quarry are found in the same opisthotonic pose and are headless….
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