Patagonia dinosaur excavation reveals giant bones

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Patagonia, an Argentinean destination which contains beautifully scenic landscapes and diverse wildlife that attracts admirers from around the world, is also home to one of the best excavation sites for dinosaur bones. Ruben Martínez, of the Paleovertebrate Laboratory at the University of Patagonia, located in Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, is one of these archaeology excavators. Martinez delivered a talk entitled "Dinosaurs of the Bajo Barreal Formation, Upper Cretaceous, Central Patagonia" Sept. 29, as the first event in the department of bioscience and biotechnology's 2005 fall lecture series.
Martínez showed pictures of different bones found over the course of his excavations, both in the process of uncovering and after cleaning and rearrangement. He detailed their anatomical significance and their place in the scheme of the different dinosaur periods and other dinosaur finds. He also explained how excavations make use of maps and satellite images to pinpoint the location of various bones and showed artist renditions of predicted dinosaur appearance based on bone information, as well as predicted dinosaur behavior and practices.
Patagonia consists of a windy, barren landscape and also is known for being a prolific dinosaur bone site. Martínez spoke of discovering dinosaur bones simply by stumbling upon them and proceeding to excavate.
The southern portion of Patagonia, which has yielded many novel bones and discoveries, is especially uninhabited, and its remoteness makes it difficult to transport the findings from digs back to Comodoro Rivadavia, where the university is located, in order to study them. The transport can include backpacking, horseback and the Argentinean air force. In addition, the weather is often cold as well as windy, making excavation conditions difficult as well. The yields from such expeditions, however, compensate for these harsh conditions.
Some finds, such as the discovery of the Xenotarsosaurus bonaparte, of the Ancient Bajo Barreal Formation, have allowed paleontologists to connect the species found in Patagonia to similar remains found in Madagascar, central India and Antarctica. These conclusions demonstrate the possible arrangement and breakdown of land masses at the end of the Jurassic period and provide clues as to the migration and history of these dinosaurs.
Martinez was introduced by Associate Professor Kenneth Lacovara, Director of the Paleontology and Geology program, who has conducted paleontological research in Patagonia. Along with Drexel graduate and undergraduate students and some Montana dinosaur hunters in Jan. 2004, Lacovara led a month-long trip to the region, unearthing the bones of a sauropod dinosaur from the "Bonanza" excavation site. The sauropod is one of the largest known dinosaurs, a four-legged herbivore with an extraordinarily long neck, and the sauropod remains found in southern Patagonia are generally much larger than those found in other parts of the world, such as North America.


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