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Fossils were long thought to lack original organic material, but the discovery of organic molecules in fossils and sub-fossils, thousands to millions of years old, has demonstrated the potential of fossil organics to provide radical new insights into the fossil record. How long different organics can persist remains unclear, however. Non-avian dinosaur bone has been hypothesised to preserve endogenous organics including collagen, osteocytes, and blood vessels, but proteins and labile lipids are unstable during diagenesis or over long periods of time. Furthermore, bone is porous and an open system, allowing microbial and organic flux. Some of these organics within fossil bone have therefore been identified as either contamination or microbial biofilm, rather than original organics. Here, we use biological and chemical analyses of Late Cretaceous dinosaur bones and sediment matrix to show that dinosaur bone hosts a diverse microbiome. Fossils and matrix were freshly-excavated, aseptically-acquired, and then analysed using microscopy, spectroscopy, chromatography, spectrometry, DNA extraction, and 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing. The fossil organics differ from modern bone collagen chemically and structurally. A key finding is that 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing reveals that the subterranean fossil bones host a unique, living microbiome distinct from that of the surrounding sediment. Even in the subsurface, dinosaur bone is biologically active and behaves as an open system, attracting microbes that might alter original organics or complicate the identification of original organics. These results suggest caution regarding claims of dinosaur bone soft tissue preservation and illustrate a potential role for microbial communities in post-burial taphonomy.

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