• This herbivorous dinosaur was about 18 meters in length and weighted 14 tons
• The research published in Nature Ecology & Evolution is led by researchers from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont and the Conca Dellà Museum (Catalonia, Spain)
• The history of the finding was captured in the documentary “Europe’s last giant“
Researchers from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP), the Conca Dellà Museum (MCD),
the Universitat Autònoma de 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, in the southern Pyrenees (Catalonia, Spain). The semiarticulated 70.5-million-year-old skeleton is the most complete specimen of this herbivorous group of dinosaurs discovered so far in Europe. Moreover, Abditosaurus is the largest titanosaur species found in the Ibero-Armorican island —an ancient region nowadays comprising Iberia and the south of France— representing a senescent individual estimated to be 17,5 meters in length with body mass of 14,000 kg.
It is precisely the size of this giant one of the most surprising facts to researchers. “Titanosaurs from the Upper Cretaceous of Europe tend to be small or medium-sized due to their evolution in insular conditions”, explained Bernat Vila, paleontologist at the ICP leading the research. During the Upper Cretaceous (between 83 and 66 million years ago), Europe was a large archipelago made up of dozens of islands. The species that evolved there tend to be relatively small, or even dwarves compared to their relatives living in large landmasses, due primarily to the limitation of food resources in islands. “It is a recurring phenomenon in the history of life on Earth, we have several examples worldwide in the fossil record of this evolutionary trend. That’s why we were astonished by the large dimensions of this specimen”, said Vila.
The fieldwork conducted over several decades unearthed 53 skeletal elements of the specimen. These include several teeth, vertebrae, ribs, and limb, scapular and pelvic bones, as well as a semiarticulated fragment of the neck formed by 12 cervical vertebrae. “We were really lucky, it is unusual to find such complete specimens in the Pyrenees due to its troubled geologic history”, explains Àngel Galobart, ICP researcher and director of the Conca Dellà Museum (Isona, Catalonia).
The excavation of the neck in 2014 (recorded in this video) was a technical challenge. Once prepared for extraction, the neck was encased in a large block of polyurethane foam, becoming one of the largest jackets ever excavated in Europe.
The history of the research that has led to the description of the new species dates back to 1954, when German paleontologist Walter Kühne collected the first remains and sent them to Madrid. The site fell into oblivion until 1986, when some more remains began to be extracted until a great storm forced the cancellation of the excavation. Subsequently, fieldwork on the site fell again into oblivion until a paleontologist from the ICP resumed systematic excavations in Orcau-1. The story of this finding was featured in the 2017 documentary “Europe’s last giant”. The generic name Abditosaurus means ‘forgotten reptile’ and the specific epithet kuehnei is a tribute to its discoverer.
• Vila, B., Sellés, A.G., Moreno-Azanza, M., Razzolini, N.L., Gil-Delgado, A., Canudo, J.I., Galobart, À. (2022). A titanosaurian sauropod with Gondwanan affinities in the latest Cretaceous of Europe. Nature Ecology & Evolution. DOI: 10.1038/s41559-021-01651-5