Stumbling dinosaur toddler finds a path out of murky lagoon into posterity

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ABOUT 113 million years ago, a dinosaur toddler stumbled into a shallow, murky lagoon and drowned. In doing so it gained an extraordinary immortality, for today it is described as the most well-preserved dinosaur fossil ever found.

Muscles, intestines, liver and even traces of the unfortunate infant's windpipe can be seen in the exquisitely-detailed fossil, although none of the skin remains.

The reptile was probably less than 2ft long from nose to tail; the exact length will never be known since the end of its tail is missing, as are the lower parts of its back legs. It only had its baby teeth, and the Italian palaeontologists who describe Scipionyx Samniticus (named after the Roman general Scipio Africanus) in this week's issue of the science journal Nature say it was ''little more than a hatchling''.

The dinosaur fossil was discovered in limestone in the Benevento province of southern Italy, which is well known for its superbly preserved fish fossils.

The rock is the remains of sediments laid down in shallow lagoons with low oxygen levels during the early Cretaceous.

Cristiano Dal Sasso, from the Natural History Museum in Milan, and Marco Signore, of Bristol University, claim that the fossil "shows details of soft anatomy never seen previously in any dinosaur".

A carnivore, it stood on two legs, had front limbs with three sharp claws, and is distantly related to the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex. It is the first dinosaur fossil to be found in Italy, as well as being a species new to science.