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Biol Lett. 2011 Dec 23;7(6):925-8. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0470. Epub 2011 Jul 13.

Dinosaur extinction: closing the '3 m gap'.

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Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.


Modern debate regarding the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs was ignited by the publication of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) asteroid impact theory and has seen 30 years of dispute over the position of the stratigraphically youngest in situ dinosaur. A zone devoid of dinosaur fossils reported from the last 3 m of the Upper Cretaceous, coined the '3 m gap', has helped drive controversy. Here, we report the discovery of the stratigraphically youngest in situ dinosaur specimen: a ceratopsian brow horn found in a poorly rooted, silty, mudstone floodplain deposit located no more than 13 cm below the palynologically defined boundary. The K-T boundary is identified using three criteria: (i) decrease in Cretaceous palynomorphs without subsequent recovery, (ii) the existence of a 'fern spike', and (iii) correlation to a nearby stratigraphic section where primary extraterrestrial impact markers are present (e.g. iridium anomaly, spherules, shocked quartz). The in situ specimen demonstrates that a gap devoid of non-avian dinosaur fossils does not exist and is inconsistent with the hypothesis that non-avian dinosaurs were extinct prior to the K-T boundary impact event.

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