Acclaimed geologist Dr. Kenneth J. Lacovara gave a presentation titled “Giants at the End of the World” profiling the discovery of a new sauropod dinosaur in South America to an overcrowded auditorium in the Merion Science Center on October 20.Lacovara, who received his doctorate from the University of Delaware, has been featured on the Discovery Channel and the National Geographic Channel among other outlets. His archaeological team made the discovery of the sauropod dinosaur in the Southern most Patagonia region of Argentina. The Patagonia region describes the southern portion of South America, mainly Argentina and Chile, and uses the Andes Mountains as a border.
“It’s very remote,” Lacovara said. “It’s about a ten-hour airport trip to get there and back.”
The first trip was in January and February, 2004. The purpose of travelling was to test the hypothesis that the sauropod class of dinosaurs evolved into smaller sizes at the end of the Cretaceous period. Instead, Lacovara appeared to have proved the opposite by finding a fossilized femur that measured 2.2 meters in length on January 22. By the end of the trip, the group had found several more bones.
By studying the femur, it was determined that the bone came from an undiscovered herbivore, or plant-eating dinosaur, that weighed approximately 60 tons, which is the size of approximately 12 African elephants.
The National Science Foundation funded a second trip to the same spot in March and April of 2005. On the first day of the trip, a second femur was found and by the end of the trip, a mass of articulated fossils were found, most notably the tail section.
On the third and fourth trips, in February and March of 2006 and January and February of 2007 respectively, Lacovara and his team continued to find a wealth of fossilized bones from the same dinosaur, ultimately leading to the most complete super massive dinosaur that has ever been discovered.
“It is a privilege to ever see a site like this,” Lacovara said.
The super massive class of dinosaur consists of dinosaurs which weigh more than 20 tons. The sheer size of the creatures tends to make it rare for more than a few fossils to be discovered. This is due to scavengers of the period making off with various pieces of the dead beast to eat. Another reason for the rarity is the size of the animal also generally prevented any kind of thorough preservation.
In February and March of 2009, Lacovara had to go down to Argentina on a diplomatic mission to get necessary exportation permits in order to transfer the fossils from Argentina to Philadelphia for study. After obtaining the permits, the fossils were loaded into a truck trailer, which then had to be examined by an X-ray machine and examined by police dogs. The trailer was then loaded onto boat and shipped to Philadelphia, where they will remain for the next four years.
The fossils are currently being cleaned and studied in the Academy of Natural Sciences. The public can watch the entire process in the Academy and ask questions to the people doing the work.
Lacovara hopes to have learned enough about the fossils to formally announce the findings and the name of the newly-found behemoth in the spring of 2011.
He could barely hide his excitement when talking about the entire process and the formal announcement coming up in the spring.
“I have a list of dinosaur names hanging on my refrigerator right now,” he said.
More information on the work currently being done can be found on the website of the Academy of Natural Sciences at ansp.org/museum/dinohall/paleo_lab.php.
Anthony Fioriglio is a student at West Chester University and can be reached at AF650463@wcupa.edu