Science

A man discovered in his garden the largest sauropod skeleton in Europe.

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In the Iberian Peninsula, important parts of the skeletons of sauropods, these amazing giants that lived between the Upper Jurassic and the Lower Cretaceous period (from 160 to 100 million years ago), have been discovered. However, it is relatively rare that they are well enough preserved to be fully observed. In Portugal, a private individual discovered in his garden the incredibly well-preserved remains of what is likely to become the largest sauropod fossil discovered in Europe. According to scientists leading the excavation, the mastodon was almost 12 meters high and 25 meters long. Although the species to which it could belong has not yet been determined, it would be close to the brachiosaurids, many of which inhabited the western region of Portugal.

It all started when, in 2017, a man accidentally discovered several bone fragments in his garden, in Pombal, Portugal, during construction work. Noting that these were rather large fossils, he contacted scientists, who then isolated the area and began excavations that same year. Around mid-August this year, a study carried out jointly with the University of Lisbon showed that it was a huge sauropod almost 12 meters high and 25 meters long.

The incredibly well-preserved elements exhumed at the moment consist of all the ribs of the animal and its vertebrae, i.e. a large part of the axial skeleton. “It’s unusual to find all of the animal’s ribs in this way, let alone the fact that they are in this position, preserving their original anatomical position,” says Elizabeth Malafaia, one of the excavation leaders at the new site and a faculty researcher. sciences at the University of Lisbon. “This mode of preservation is relatively rare in the fossil record of dinosaurs, especially sauropods, from the Portuguese Upper Jurassic,” she adds.

According to the research team, this will be the largest single sauropod skeleton found in Europe. Namely, that the last one, considered the largest of its kind discovered in Europe, Abditosaurus kuehnei, was only about 18 meters long and could have lived in the Spanish Pyrenees. But the record for measurements (all dinosaurs combined) has so far been held by the famous Patagotitan Mayorum found in Patagonia, as its name suggests. With a length of 36 meters and a weight of 69 tons, it will be equivalent to the weight of 12 African elephants.

In addition, the new fossil will be close to brachiosaurids, dinosaurs with long necks and highly developed lower limbs (probably to support their weight) that lived between the Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous. Previous excavations seem to support this hypothesis given the large number of Late Jurassic vertebrate fossils found in the Pombal area, especially at Monte Agudo.

“Research in the Monte Agudo paleontological area confirms that the Pombal region has an important fossil record of Upper Jurassic vertebrates, which in recent decades has provided the discovery of abundant elements, very important for the study of continental faunas that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula about 145 million years ago,” — explains Malafaya.

Favorite haunt of sauropods

Earlier research suggests that sauropods lived more in mid-latitude, warmer, drier habitats than where other groups of dinosaurs such as theropods have been found in the past. Scientists have found almost nothing above 50°N (covering much of Canada and northern Europe).

“Our study shows that parts of the planet have always seemed too cold for sauropods,” says Philip Mannion, co-author of a previous sauropod study and researcher at University College London. “They seem to have been avoiding anything close to freezing,” he adds. Therefore, it is very likely that these giants swarmed in southern Europe, especially in the Iberian Peninsula, where it was probably warm all year round and where the vegetation was lush enough to feed these large herbivores.

Lisbon scientists hope to be able to exhume the remains of the newly discovered sauropod during future excavations and hope to make important discoveries given the fossil’s good state of preservation.

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