September 29, 2010

European Dinosaur Trove Yields New Secrets

An extraordinary trove of dinosaur fossils in central Spain is revealing its secrets decades after a mechanical tree digger first unearthed it.

Once the digging machine cut a furrow to plant pines in the arid soil near the medieval town of Cuenca in the 1980s, the machine sliced through over 100 million years of Europe's richest seams of fossils.

The fluke opened the door for a series of discoveries about the creatures that walked the Earth during the Cretaceous period.

A new secret the trove has unearthed is a strange humpbacked dinosaur known as Pepito that was fossilized after it had devoured its prey about 125 million years ago.

The dinosaur is 20 feet long from snout to tail tip, and had jaws and small, clawed forelimbs, a curved spine and small hump.

Pepito was a fast and powerful hunter that had apparently eaten recently.

The unique and nearly complete fossil contained the remnants of its prey in the abdominal cavity.

Baptized Concavenator corcovatus, it has since joined the rich collection of Cuenca's regional science museum.

Museum director Jesus Madero told AFP news that the number of visitors to the museum jumped 70 percent and the number of hits on the museum Internet site has exploded since the discovery was published in Nature.

Paleontologist and co-author of the Nature article, Francisco Ortega, told AFP that Pepito "is a strange beast, a strong runner on small feet."

The professor at UNED, the Spanish Open University for distance learning, told AFP that its hump had never been seen before in dinosaurs.  He said that it could have served as an energy reserve as in a dromedary.

The collection of 8,000 species unearthed from the European dinosaur trove now sleeps in boxes in an anonymous warehouse outside of Cuenca because there is no space in the museum.

The regional government of Castile-la Mancha has been forced to shelve the project of building a paleontology institute for the bones temporarily because of the economic crisis.


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