The biggest dinosaur ever to walk the Earth, fourteen times the weight of an African elephant, will be presented by Sir David Attenborough on BBC One on 24th January at 6.30pm. The 37-metre-long Titanosaur weighed a hefty 70 tonnes and existed 95 million years ago during the late Mesozoic era.
The amazing fossil find occurred two years ago when a shepherd saw bits of fossil bone protruding from a rock in La Flecha Farm in Chubut, Patagonia, Argentina.
Palaeontologists at the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio (Egidio Feruglio Paleontology Museum) in Trelew, a town in Chubut province, went to the area and set up an excavation site as soon as they heard about what the shepherd had seen.
The giant sauropod dinosaur (titanosaurus) weighed the equivalent of 14 African Elephants or 920 average-size human adults. (Image: mef.org.ar)
A paleontologist is a scientist specializing in studying fossils. If you have boxes all over your house with fossils in them you are probably an amateur palaeontologist. Palaeontology comes from Greek palaios ‘ancient’, onto ‘being’, and logy study.
Size of bones amazed scientists
The excavation team members were astonished at how large the first bone they unearthed was – a 2 metre (7.9 ft) long femur (thigh bone) – the largest thigh bone ever found.
They eventually gathered 220 bones from seven different titanosaur dinosaurs.
Excavation leader, Dr. Diego Pol, from the Museum, said:
“It was like a paleontological crime scene, a unique thing that you don’t find anywhere else in the world with the potential of discovering all kinds of new facts about titanosaurs. According to our estimates this animal weighed 70 tons.”
“A comparison of the back bones shows that this animal was 10 per cent larger than Argentinosaurus, the previous record holder. So we have discovered the largest dinosaur ever known.”
Dinosaur palaeontologist, José Luis Carballido, head of the team studying the animals at the museum, said of the find:
“It’s a real paleontological treasure. There were lots of fossils in great preservation, practically intact, something that does not happen often. In fact, the remains of giant Titanosaurs known so far are scarce and fragmentary.”
The 2-year forensic study has culminated in the assembly of a giant dinosaur skeleton for members of the public to come and see. (Image: mef.org.ar)
The BBC documentary – Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur – follows the twists and turns of this fascinating 24-month forensic study.
Sir David and colleagues explain how the dinosaur lived
Sir David observed the unearthing, cleaning and examination of this Cretaceous giant’s fossil bones. The Mesozoic Era is divided into three periods: the Triassic (251-199.6 million years ago), the Jurassic (199.6-145.5 million years ago), and the Cretaceous (145.5-65.5 million years ago).
Using the latest graphics technology, the documentary shows what researchers believe the dinosaur’s internal structure looked like, as well as how it moved and functioned.
Before this find, experts across the world were fairly sure mega Titanosaurs existed many millions of years ago, but did not know much about them because the fossils that had been unearthed were badly-preserved small fragments.
Sir David talked with Nick Robinson, presenter of the BBC Today programme, about the dinosaur and how they worked out its dimensions from the bones that were discovered. (Image: bbc.co.uk)
Sir David takes the viewer to the excavation site, where we witness the unearthing of these gigantic specimens, and then to the museum lab in Trelew where they are cleaned and examined.
Palaeontologists and comparative anatomy experts (they study similarities/differences in the anatomy of different species) explain what the bones of this huge animal tell us about its life, with the help of computer animation, 3D scanning and CGI visuals.
At the end of the documentary, we witness the unveiling of the magnificent 37-metre-long skeleton model of this newly-discovered Titanosaur species, built by model makers from Argentina and Canada.
So many dead dinosaurs in one place
Why would seven adult Titanosaurs die in the same place? The scientists suggest that there may have been a watering hole at the site 95 million years ago. Perhaps there was a severe drought and many of them congregated there, where some collapsed from dehydration and died.
A number of the weaker ones might have got stuck in the mud and could not get out.
Argentinian and Canadian model makers assembled this magnificent skeleton of the newly-discovered giant dinosaur. (Image: mef.org.ar)
All those dead bodies would have meant rich pickings for Tyrannotitan, a large theropod scavenger that lived in South America.
Regarding Tyrannotitan, Dr. Carballido said:
“They probably frequented the place to scavenge the remains of herbivores. But the feast had high price: to bite hard skin and flesh of these giants often broke their teeth, that later regenerated.”
The dinosaur does not yet have a name. The research team says that once details of the discovery are published in a scientific paper, its name will be revealed.
They also found prehistoric remains of large plants at the site, including some imprints of large logs and leaves, which suggest that the landscape of Patagonia was very different ninety-five million years ago. There were many large trees in the region then.
‘Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaur’, BBC 1, Sunday, 24 January, 6.30pm. (Image adapted from BBC)
Ben Garrod appears with Sir David, his childhood hero
Ben Garrod, an evolutionary biologist, teaching fellow at Anglia Ruskin University, will also appear on the show with his childhood hero Sir David. Dr. Garrod is a regular guest on The One Show and has hosted his own BBC 4 series.
Dr. Garrod said to Cambridge News:
“I was walking through Paddington station and my phone rang and it was a producer from the BBC who asked me about a new show. She said it would be jumping from BBC Four to One, which is wonderful and she said it’s about dinosaurs, and I love dinosaurs.”
“Then she said it’s the biggest dinosaur ever discovered, you would be involved in the dig, and it’s with David Attenborough. It was one of those random moments in the middle of Paddington that changes your life.”
“For a documentary this was done really quickly, it has taken less than two years. At the start of this the dinosaur was in the ground and barely recognisable, and now the whole thing has been scanned, reassembled and all the bones cleaned, and the team has written a scientific paper and we’ve made a programme about it.”
Dr. Garrod says he vividly remembers walking along the beach in Norfolk with his grandfather, then arriving home to watch Sir David on TV. To have developed from that inspiration as a kid to knowing the man today quite well is ‘amazing’, Dr. Garrod said.
Regarding Sir David, Dr. Garrod added:
“It was lovely, not because of who he is but what he has got, which is endless passion and drive for the natural world. He would be the first up in the mornings and the last one to leave at night, and still so interested.”
“It was a bit daunting doing a piece to camera with David watching, he has a great poker face, then just at the end he said ‘you did well’, which was amazing.”
Video – How to build a dinosaur
In this speeded-up video footage, you can see the dinosaur skeleton model being assembled.