The story that you will read next has all the ingredients to surprise even the most incredulous. So, without further ado, let's get started. In the small town of Orcau, in Pallars Jussà, a stone's throw from Lleida, it has been found a new kind of dinosaur. Of neither more nor less than 70.5 million years old, what would become the last great age of the dinosaurs before their extinction. It is the semi-articulated skeleton of a herbivore most complete ever discovered in Europe. It also rises as the largest dinosaur discovered in this region. The animal is presented to the world under the name of 'Abditosaurus kuehnei'which literally translates as "the forgotten reptile"since (although his great debut has arrived this Monday) the discovery of his remains dates back to the 50s.
It could be said, as is usual in paleontological studies, that this finding is the result of chance. But, according to the researcher Bernat Villa In an interview with EL PERIÓDICO, the discovery of this new species of dinosaur (and its relationship) is not fortuitous. The first remains of this animal they were unearthed by the German paleontologist Walter Kühne back in 1954 (from whom, by the way, he has inherited the surname). The fossils were sent to Lucas Mallada Institute of Madrid and, despite their spectacular nature, they ended up buried in oblivion. The Orcau site came back to life in the the 80's, with a new excavation, but a great storm paralyzed the works again. It was not until 2012 that Vila and his team recovered the excavation and they started to rebuild the puzzle pieces.
"The discovery of this dinosaur has been possible thanks to hard teamwork", explains Miquel Crusafont, researcher at the Institut Català de Paleontologia and first author of this work, proudly. Beginning with the "laborious work" of recover the original notebooks from the first excavation, gather the fossil remains distributed by different museums in Spain and study, as a whole, the skeleton of this animal. The result, published this Monday in the prestigious scientific journal 'Nature Ecology & Evolution', includes a reconstruction of the dinosaur, twenty three-dimensional models of the fossils and a total of 130 pages of supplemental material to reconstruct the origins of this prehistoric giant.
A giant herbivore
Let's talk, now, about what an 'Abditosaurus kuehnei' was like. The reconstruction of this dinosaur draws the image of a herbivorous from 18 meters in length and some 14 tons of weight who lived 70 million years ago two steps from what we now know as Tremp. According to its discoverers, it was a quadrupedal animal, with a robust body and long neck. With front legs shorter than the back ones and a huge pointed tail. Her skull was small and her teeth pointed. And her trunk was covered with bony plates that, probably, served him either as a protective shield or as a reserve of calcium.
One of the most surprising facts about this 'portrait' is that it points to a specimen almost twice the size of native dinosaurs of this area. As Vila explains, in fact, the dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous of Europe were much smallerbetween six and 10 meters long, with some almost dwarf dimensions compared to the great dinosaurs of the American continent. "The vertebra of an indigenous dinosaur fits in La Palma of your hand. But a vertebra of an 'Abditosaurus kuehnei' can measure almost 45 centimeters in width. It is so big that it takes more than one person to handle it", explains Vila to illustrate the difference in size and, incidentally, the technical difficulty involved in studying this enormous specimen.
"The vertebra of an indigenous dinosaur fits in La Palma of a hand, but a vertebra of an 'Abditosaurus kuehnei' can measure almost 45 centimeters wide"
The discovery of a prehistoric giant in the heart of Pallars Jussà has been a major surprise for the scientific community. Until now, in fact, it was believed that this region (then made up of an extensive archipelago of islands which now includes from the Iberian peninsula to the south of France) was only populated by small dinosaurs. The presence of a large reptile, according to its discoverers, opens the door to an interesting hypothesis about the diaspora of these animals. "Phylogenetic analyzes conclude that this dinosaur belongs to the group of titanosaurs that came from South America and Africa", summarizes Vila. "Our theory is that they arrived in this region through a migratory route that was created at that time by the general drop in sea level", comments the paleontologist.
The history of this animal has been unearthed by researchers from the Miquel Crusafont Catalan Institute of Paleontology (ICP), the Conca Dellà Museum (MCD), the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), the University of Zaragoza (Unizar) and the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa (UNL) and, according to the paleontologists responsible for their study, provides a new look at the last european dinosaurs. "Almost everything we know about the extinction of the dinosaurs comes from the American continent. Everything that happened beyond that remains to be seen. We still don't know how did the fall of the meteorite affect to the dinosaurs that inhabited the Catalan and Aragonese Pyrenees", comments the scientist. "Understanding what happened to these animals goes far beyond the anecdote. Is a key step to understand our existencethe evolution of life forms and the processes of mass extinction", he reflects.
"We still do not know how the fall of the meteorite affected the dinosaurs that lived in the Catalan and Aragonese Pyrenees"
The news of this spectacular finding ends with a 'proximity' note that will delight dinosaur lovers. The majestic specimen 'Abditosaurus kuehnei' will be exhibitedfor the first time since its discovery, in the Museum of the Conca Della, also known as Parc Cretaci de Isona. If all goes well, Vila anticipates, the exhibition will be inaugurated during the first quarter of this year. Hopefully before Easter. If not, towards the month of June. The fossil will be presented accompanied by a detailed explanation of his discovery, its study and the mysteries that (for the moment) it leaves unsolved. Of course, Vila advances that both he and his team have already opened a new line of research to reveal how this prehistoric giant passed through the Pyrenees.