January 2016

The world´s largest dinosaur: From Chubut to New York

A replica of the titanosaurus discovered in Chubut, becomes part of the permanent exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, one of the most important museums of natural sciences in the world.

On January 14, 2016, Ellen Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, unveiled to the scientific community and the international media, the largest dinosaur found so far, which will become part of the permanent exhibition of the Museum.

The “Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio” from Trelew, ​ scientific institution in charge of the collection, research and reconstruction of this great dinosaur, attended to the opening ceremony in New York in the person of it’s Director, Dr. Rubén Cúneo (MEF­CONICET); the President of “Fundación Egidio Feruglio”, Enrique Korn; the Head of the Scientific Department, Dr. Diego Pol (MEF­CONICET); and the Head of Exhibitions​, Maximiliano Iberlucea (MEF­CONICET).

In Trelew city, this giant has been rebuilt in the Fairgrounds, where it hosted events held as part of the 150th anniversary of the Welsh Gesta. Soon it will be possible to visit the dinosaur at the same place.

Titanic reconstruction

Rebuilding this giant was not an easy job: the skeletons found in the field were disjointed, mixed, and even though researchers were able to find a lot of bones, many of them did not get preserved as fossils. Therefore, the task began in the laboratories of MEF, by cleaning and conditioning the fossils for their identification.

The reconstruction work of a new species is a real challenge, regarding the fact that keeping scientific rigor requires intense collaboration between researchers and technicians.

To do a complete rebuild in real size, replicas of the original bones are made; this is a method that applies to all assemblies. For this particular case, part of the work was done manually, one of the tasks performed in one of the laboratories of the Museum, and other parts using 3D technology.

The Canadian company Research Casting International (Ontario), which features the latest technology in 3D views and specializes in natural recreations, undertook the task. The first part of the process ­scanning the fossil bones­ was held at MEF. The use of these new technologies allows to reconstruct or correct any damage produced on the bones by the fossilization process, and recreate the bones that were not found. Replicas reconstructions preserve the original remains and achieve extremely light assemblies in alive position. This partnership, bore the complete skeletons found in Trelew armed and New York.

Replicas reconstruction preserves the original remains and achieve assemblies, extremely light and in life appearance. This partnership, made possible the complete skeletons already assembled in Trelew and New York.

Radiography of a giant

Fossil remains of seven colossal dinosaurs were found in La Flecha, a farm in the Province of Chubut (Patagonia, Argentina) located about 260 kilometers south­west from Trelew.

Fossils indicate that this is a new species of titanosaur that belongs to the group of sauropod dinosaurs, which were long­ necked, quadrupedal herbivores that reached huge dimensions. This giant, 40 meters long and 20 meters high, lived about 101.6 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous, and its estimated weight is about 70 tons. “It is like two trucks with trailer on a row, and its weight equals more than 14 African elephants together” says José Luis Carballido, dinosaur specialist at MEF and in charge of the study of these specimens.

What makes the discovery a major event for science worldwide is not only the size of the remains, but also the perfect preservation conditions in which they are and the amount of pieces collected: over 220 fossils, out of which the first to be discovered was a 78.74­foot long femur (the longest found in the world so far).

This species is being studied and has not been published in scientific journals yet; for this reason it does not have a formal scientific name this far.

A true paleontological treasure

The type of environment in which the fossils were found​, indicates that it was a river floodplain. Probably, when dinosaurs approached it to have some water, some of them were caught in the mud and died on the spot. Another possible hypothesis is that these animals have “chosen” that plain to go and die, similar to current elephant cemeteries.

On the site of the finding there were more than 60 teeth from carnivorous dinosaurs similar to Tyrannotitan chubutensis, that probably frequented the place to scavenge on the remains of these herbivores. Plant fossils found, including large logs and imprints of leaves, reveal a very different Patagonian landscape from the current one. The collected samples indicate that about 100 million years ago there were huge trees with undergrowth (lower layers) rich in angiosperm (flowering) plants in the process of diversification.

All this information allows us to reconstruct not only what fauna was like and how the discovered animals could have died, but also the general environmental conditions.

Research on this species is conducted by specialists in different fields of paleontology and geology.

It is leaded by Drs. Carballido and Diego Pol ​ (MEF­ CONICET), who team up with Drs. Leonardo Salgado and Ignacio Cerda (Universidad Nacional de General Roca­ CONICET), Alejandro Otero (Universidad Nacional de La Plata­CONICET), Alberto Garrido (Museo Olsacher de Zapala­CONICET), Juan Ignacio Canale (Museo Paleontológico del Chocón­CONICET), José Ignacio Canudo (Universidad de Zaragoza), Martin Umazano (Universidad Nacional de la Pampa­ CONICET) and Marcelo Krause (MEF-­CONICET).

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