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The largest dinosaur ever discovered in Europe may have been found in someone's backyard
Standing on the rib cages of giants.
The first several scenes of Jurassic Park all happen in the outside world. The viewer is taken on a journey from amber mines in the Dominican Republic to a paleontological dig in Montana. It grounds our experience in the real world so that it can be uprooted a few scenes down the line. One precarious helicopter ride later and our protagonists land at Isla Nublar, the site of the titular Jurassic Park. It’s only then that the tone shifts from relatively realistic real-world science to unadulterated wonder when they catch sight of their first dinosaur.
It's no wonder that the filmmakers chose sauropods for that moment. They capture the majesty and the otherworldliness of dinosaurs in a way few other creatures can. It’s nearly impossible to imagine a world in which such truly massive creatures roamed the earth. The sauropods are the largest land animals to have ever lived and include in their number the earth-shaking Patagotitan mayorum, a giant more than 36 meters long, weighing in at an estimated 69 tons.
Sauropods have been found on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica. They’re usually discovered at well-known dig sites around the world, where paleontologists spend season after season liberating fossilized bone from ancient rock. Sometimes, however, they show up where you least expect them.
In 2017, a man living in the city of Pombal, located in the central region of Portugal, was doing some construction work on his property when he noticed fossilized bone fragments in the sediment. He contacted researchers and they promptly made their way to the site and confirmed the presence of dinosaur bones. A formal dig would have to wait for a few more years — barely a blink when compared with the tens of millions of years the bones had waited to be discovered — until August of this year.
During the first 10 days of August 2022, a team of paleontologists returned to the site with their tools and uncovered the remains of what might be the largest dinosaur ever discovered in Europe. To date, only a partial skeleton has been revealed, including some vertebrae and ribs, but the staggering size of the bones makes clear that they’re dealing with something gigantic.
Based on the bones they’ve uncovered so far, it’s estimated the animal would have come in at roughly 12 meters tall and 25 meters in length. The discovery unseats Abditosaurus kuehnei, previously believed to have been the largest sauropod in the region, and it’s not even close. A. kuehnei, which was discovered earlier this year in Spain, came in at roughly 17.5 meters in length, a full 7.5 meters shorter than this new animal.
The specimen is believed to belong to an as yet unidentified species of brachiosaurid sauropod, dating to the Upper Jurassic or Lower Cretaceous, roughly 160 to 100 million years ago. Given the orientation of the bones, researchers believe the animal died in place, which suggests there’s a decent chance that more of its body is waiting to be uncovered. That’s something the team hopes to confirm during a future dig.
It's enough to make us want to break out the shovels and start digging up the garden. There’s no telling what we might find.