What’s the coolest thing you’ve found in your basement? Some old comics? Maybe a forgotten spare tire? How about an enormous bone from a previously uncategorized species of dinosaur? Such a bone was left languishing in museum vaults for decades before scientists recognized it as significant. They recently pieced together that the bone, which was discovered in the 1930’s, belonged to a new kind of titanosaur.
A team of scientists from Imperial College London, Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle and the CNRS/Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne have named the dinosaur Vouivria damparisensis. V. damparisensis lived around 160 million years ago, making it the earliest known member of the titanosauriform family of dinosaurs. The Brachiosaurus also belongs to this family.
The dinosaur that left the fossil was probably about 50 feet long and may have weighed 33,000 pounds. It had four legs of equal length, a long tail, and probably held its long neck at a 45-degree angle from its body.
Dr. Philip Mannion, the study’s lead author, said in a press release, “Vouivria would have been an herbivore, eating all kinds of vegetation, such as ferns and conifers. “This creature lived in the Late Jurassic, around 160 million years ago, at a time when Europe was a series of islands. We don’t know what this creature died from, but millions of years later it is providing important evidence to help us understand in more detail the evolution of brachiosaurid sauropods and a much bigger group of dinosaurs that they belonged to, called titanosauriforms.”
It also belonged to the final cast of dinosaurs who lived before the massive extinction event in the Cretaceous. Titanosauriforms were some of the largest animals to ever live on Earth. The new discovery will help scientists fill in archaeological gaps in the evolutionary history of titanosauriforms.
Thanks to insights from the fossil, scientists now believe that Early Cretaceous brachiosaurids were probably limited in range to the piece of land that is now Africa and the United States. It also suggests that brachiosaurids were probably extinct in Europe during that time, and that they may not have spread to South America.
The dino’s name is derived from the old French word for viper, “vouivre.” Damparisensis refers to Damparis, the village where the fossil was first uncovered in 1934.
If there are other fossil treasures to be found in back corners of museum collections, this finding should encourage curators to look. They may be pleasantly surprised by what they find.