Science

Incredible Dinosaur Treasure Trove in Italy Rewrites History, Geography, and Evolution

An adult and two juveniles of the Tyrannosaurus Tethyshadros insularis show the various phenotypes exhibited by immature and mature specimens in the paleoenvironment of Villaggio del Pescatore, the first region in Italy that preserved several individuals of the same species. Credit: David Bonadonna

A buried dinosaur in Italy rewrites the history, geography and evolution of the ancient Mediterranean region.

Italy isn’t exactly famous for dinosaurs. Compared to its excellent artistic and archaeological heritage, dinosaur fossils are very rare. Not surprisingly, the discovery of the first isolated remains of these animals, in the early 1990s, aroused much excitement, but soon after was considered nothing more than an exception to a general rule. During the reign of the dinosaurs, between 230 and 66 million years ago, it was difficult to map the ancient Mediterranean, which was formed from countless small islands far from all the main lands – Europe, Africa, Asia – unsuitable for preservation On large animals such as dinosaurs. Or so we believed.

Now, a new study has been published in Scientific Reports Coordinated by researchers from the University of Bologna, they unveil the first fossil site with multiple and exceptionally complete dinosaur skeletons from Italy: the Villaggio del Pescatore, located in the municipality of Duino-Aurisina, near Trieste, in northeastern Italy.

bruno skeleton

The skeleton of Bruno, an adult individual of the dinosaur Tethyshadros insularis, is described in this new study. Image source: P. Ferrieri (courtesy of the Supervisory Authority for Archeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of Friuli Venezia Giulia)

These beautiful skeletons belong to the species Tethyshadros insularis It is the largest and most complete dinosaur ever found in this country. The team describes the skeletons of some of the most beautiful and beautiful dinosaurs from the site (in particular a new person named “Bruno”) and highlights the presence of seven (possibly eleven) individuals at Villaggio del Pescatore.

Antonio Skeleton and Bruno

Skeletal reconstruction of individual Tethyshadros insularis, with the immature specimen nicknamed ‘Antonio’ ​​(above) and the newly described mature skeleton of ‘Bruno’ below. Credit: University of Bologna

Dinosaurs aren’t the only fossil remains from the site: fish, crocodiles, flying reptiles and even small crustaceans provide a vivid picture of an ancient ecosystem unparalleled worldwide. The unique fossils collected from Villaggio del Pescatore in Trieste can be enjoyed at Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, granted on deposit by the Italian Ministry of Culture.

The excavation site of Villaggio del Pescatore

The fossil site at Villaggio del Pescatore, where people from ZOIC are working to extract fossils of this amazing dinosaur. Credit: ZOIC srl

The study also reviews and rewrites several evolutionary hypotheses to explain the ancient Mediterranean context. Originally, geologists interpreted the area known today as Villaggio del Pescatore as part of an island in the middle of a “proto-Mediterranean” ocean called Tethys. He supported this misinterpretation that the relatively small skeleton, the first dinosaur skeleton found at the site (nicknamed “Antonio”), was in fact a “dwarf” species, an example of the so-called “island base” (evolutionary miniaturization of animals). large scale in an isolated environment due to scarcity of resources).

Antonio Pons under the microscope

‘Antonio’ ​​bones under the microscope showing osteocytes (circled black dots): Fossilized bone tissue has been analyzed to infer the relative age of dinosaur skeletons at the time of their death. Credit: University of Bologna

In this new study, the research team documents that ‘Antonio’ ​​is an immature individual, while ‘Bruno’ which is larger in size, represents an older individual – and this individual could have been still growing at the time of his death.

Bruno Scull

Skull of “Bruno,” the newly described skeleton of the dinosaur Tethyshadros insularis. Image source: A. Giamborino (courtesy of the Supervisory Board for Archeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of Friuli Venezia Giulia)

New geological data collected by the team also provided the age of the site and its fossils: nearly 80 million years ago, in chalky interval. That’s about 10 million years older than previously thought: a very long time even when dealing with dinosaurs. At the time, what is now northeastern Italy was a land facing a vast ocean but connected to western Europe and Asia. This means that not only small islands marked the ancient Mediterranean, but many of the migration routes of large terrestrial animals such as dinosaurs may have been possible via the land bridges of what we call present-day Italy.

simplified evolutionary tree

Simplified evolutionary tree showing where Tethyshadros might fit in among its Hadrosauriform relatives, so-called duck-billed dinosaurs. Credit: University of Bologna

This new research highlights not only the first step in terms of exceptional findings, but more importantly the pivotal role of the Italian dinosaur fossil record in evaluating important scientific hypotheses about these ancient animals. Since the site is already protected from Italian institutions, the new research and educational activities may represent an opportunity to include the geological and fossil heritage in the list of “must see” while visiting the “Belpaese”.

Reference: “Italian dinosaur Lagerstätte reveals rhythm and method of hadrosiform body size evolution” Dec 2, 2021, Scientific Reports.

The researchers involved in the study are: Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza (University of Vigo), Matteo Fabbri (Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago), Lorenzo Consorti (University of Trieste and Geological Survey of Italy – ISPRA), Juan Cantalapiedra (Universidad de Alcalá)), David Evans ( Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto), Federico Fante and Marco Moscioni (University of Bologna).

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