Europe’s largest known dinosaur may be lying in a Portuguese backyard

29 Aug 2022

The excavation campaign at the Monte Agudo paleontological site in Pombal, Portugal. Image: Instituto Dom Luiz/Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon

Remains of what could be a 12-metre high and 25-metre long sauropod are being excavated in a back garden in Portugal after a chance discovery in 2017.

Ongoing excavations in the backyard of a home in Portugal have unearthed an interesting possibility – that the largest dinosaur remains ever found in Europe could be lying there.

Researchers from the University of Lisbon in Portugal think that the fossilised skeleton, currently being studied by a team of Portuguese and Spanish palaeontologists, could belong to a sauropod dinosaur that was approximately 12 metres high and 25 metres long.

Sauropods, literally meaning ‘lizard-footed’, are from a family of dinosaurs characterised by their long necks and tails, small heads relative to their bodies and their general enormous size. They tend to have four pronounced legs, unlike the famously small-armed T-rex, and were herbivores.

Scientists believe that the vertebrae and ribs found in the Monte Agudo paleontological site in Pombal belong to a sauropod of the brachiosaurid branch. This species lived from the Upper Jurassic to the Lower Cretaceous periods around 160m to 100m years ago.

“It is not usual to find all the ribs of an animal like this, let alone in this position, maintaining their original anatomical position,” said Elisabete Malafaia, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lisbon.

“This mode of preservation is relatively uncommon in the fossil record of dinosaurs, in particular sauropods, from the Portuguese Upper Jurassic.”

Scientists were first alerted to the skeleton in 2017 when the owner of the property noticed fragments of fossilised bones in his garden while carrying out construction work.

The research team then began an excavation project to unearth the remains of the large sauropod dinosaur which, as they realised earlier this month, might be the largest dinosaur remains to have been ever found in Europe.

Scientists said that the preservation characteristics of the fossils indicate the possible presence of other parts of the skeleton, which the team will investigate in further excavation work at the site.

Malafaia said the research in the Monte Agudo region confirms that Pombal has an “important fossil record of Late Jurassic vertebrates”.

“[Pombal’s fossil record] in the last decades has provided the discovery of abundant materials very significant for the knowledge of the continental faunas that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula at about 145m years ago.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic