New light in the prehistory of the Mediterranean from a “cemetery” of dinosaurs 80 million years old

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Italy is famous for many things, but certainly not for them dinosaurs – at least until now, as Italian scientists announced that they had discovered the first paleontological site with many dinosaur skeletons around the age of 80 million years old.

Researchers from the University of Bologna and other universities, who published the paper in the journal Scientific Reports, said it was the site of Villagio del Pescatore, an old quarry near Trieste in northeastern Italy.

The skeletons found there (at least seven, maybe 11) belong to the herbivorous species Tethyshadros insularis, which reached a length of five meters, among which stands out one that was christened “Bruno” and is the best preserved.

In addition to dinosaurs, fossils of fish, crocodiles, flying reptiles and other organisms have been found at this site, providing a relief image of a ancient ecosystem which, according to Italian scientists, is unparalleled in the world.

The first solitary fossils in the Villagio del Pescatore were discovered in the early 1990s, but were considered an exception to the rule. During the time of the dinosaurs, 230 to 66 million years ago, the area of ​​the ancient Mediterranean was estimated to be very different from today, with countless small islands remote from each continent, so it was considered inappropriate to accommodate large animals. But this picture probably needs to be revised now.

Geologists initially estimated that present-day Villagio del Pescatore was part of an island in the middle of a pre-Mediterranean ocean, Tethys. The initial discovery of the skeleton of a “dwarf” dinosaur named “Antonio” seemed to confirm this theory, as on an island – due to evolutionary pressures from lack of sufficient resources – the animals tend to be small in size.

But the “Bruno” that was found more recently and is larger in size, creates a new image.

Newer geological data suggest that 80 million years ago present-day northeastern Italy was a landlocked ocean and was connected to western Europe and Asia. So there were not only many small islands in the ancient Mediterranean, so the dinosaurs may have arrived by land in Italy.

After the comparison with “Bruno” and the other recent fossils, the older “Antonio” is now estimated that he was not a tiny dinosaur but just very young.

The collection of fossils is housed in the Museum of Natural History of Trieste, courtesy of the Italian Ministry of Culture.

The address for the scientific publication:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-02490-x

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