Home Sciences This was the giant dinosaur discovered in Lleida, the largest in Spain

This was the giant dinosaur discovered in Lleida, the largest in Spain


A group of scientists has successfully completed the excavations begun decades ago at a site in Lleida, which They have allowed to find the skeleton of a giant dinosaur of 18 metersthe largest that lived in the Iberian Peninsula.

Research staff 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 NOVA University of Lisbon (UNL) have described the new species of titanosaur dinosaur ‘Abditosaurus kuehnei’ from the remains excavated at the Orcau-1 site, located in Pallars Jussà (Lérida) and which is 70.5 million years old.

It is the most complete semi-articulated skeleton of this group of herbivorous dinosaurs discovered so far in Europe. Its dimensions -almost 18 meters long and an estimated weight of 14 tons- makes it the largest species of dinosaur in the Ibero-Armorian domainthe ancient region that currently groups Iberia and the south of France.

One of the aspects that surprised the research staff is precisely its size. “The titanosaurs that we usually find in the Upper Cretaceous of Europe tend to be small or medium in size, as a consequence of having evolved in insular conditions”, explains Bernat Vila, ICP paleontologist who signs the article.

unusual size

During the Upper Cretaceous (between 83 and 66 million years ago), Europe was an extensive archipelago made up of dozens of islands. The faunas that evolved there tend to be small or even dwarf forms, due to the limitation of food that implies living on an island.

“It is a recurring phenomenon in the history of life on Earth and we have many examples in the fossil record. That is why we were surprised by the large dimensions of this specimen”, says Vila.

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The remains of this dinosaur consist of various vertebrae and ribs of the trunk and bones of the limbs and the pelvic and shoulder girdles, but especially noteworthy is a semi-articulated fragment of the neck formed by 12 cervical vertebraesome merged with each other.

“We are rarely lucky enough to find such complete specimens,” explains Àngel Galobart, ICP researcher and director of the Conca Dellà Museum (in Isona, Lleida). In the different excavation campaigns, up to 53 remains of the animal’s skeleton have been recovered.

“The fossils of the skeleton of ‘Abditosaurus’ can be seen in the new Conca Dellà Museum, which is scheduled to open during the first quarter of this year,” says Galobart.

The excavation of the neck in 2014, recorded on video, was a technical challenge, since a “mummy” had never been extracted – the term used in paleontology to refer to the polyurethane foam block that protects the fossil inside– of these dimensions in Europe.

A story that began in 1954

The history of the research that has led to the description of the new species dates back to 1954, when the German paleontologist Walter Kühne excavated its first remains and sent them to the Lucas Mallada Institute in Madrid.

The site fell into oblivion until 1986, when some more remains were extracted, but a major storm canceled the excavation. The place was once again forgotten until, in 2012, ICP investigators systematically resumed excavations.

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The story of this discovery was collected in the documentary produced by TV3 “The last giant of Europe”, released in 2017 and broadcast by Movistar +. ‘Abditosaurus’ means ‘the forgotten reptile’ and the specific epithet ‘kuehnei’ is a tribute to its discoverer.

The article published this Monday in the journal ‘Nature Ecology & Evolution’ includes phylogenetic analyzes (that is, kinship) of the new species and concludes that Abditosaurus belongs to a group of saltasaurine titanosaurs from South America and Africaseparated from the rest of European dinosaurs that are characterized by a smaller size.

The research staff postulates that the ‘Abditosaurus’ lineage arrived on the Ibero-Armorian island taking advantage of a global drop in sea level that allowed the reactivation of ancient migration routes between Africa and Europe.

“There is other evidence to support the migration hypothesis“, explains Albert Sellés, paleontologist at the ICP and co-author of the article. “In the same site we have found eggshells of dinosaur species that we know inhabited Gondwana, the southernmost continent”, concludes the paleontologist.

The new finding represents a primordial breakthrough in the knowledge of the evolution of sauropod dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous and brings a new perspective to the phylogenetic and paleobiogeographical puzzle of sauropods in the last 15 million years before their extinction.

In addition to Vila, Sellés and Galobart, the research has also involved Novella Razzolini (Miquel Crusafont Catalan Institute of Paleontology and Conca Dellà Museum), Michael Moreno (Museum of Lurinhã and NOVA University of Lisbon), Inaki Canudo (Aragosaurus Group – IUCA, University of Zaragoza) and Alexander Gil (Autonomous University of Barcelona).

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