WASHINGTON, March 18, 2017 — It always seems to be the case. Shepherds searching for lost members of their flock end up making titanic discoveries.
In 1946, Bedouin shepherds on the West Bank of the Jordan River found 981 manuscripts housed inside ancient clay jars. Those texts, compiled by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes, are what are called the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In 2013, a shepherd stumbled over a fossil protruding from the desert floor of Argentina’s desolate Patagonia region. When the entire fossil was eventually released from its rock matrix, it measured 8 feet long and was identified as the thigh bone, or femur, belonging to a new species of plant-eating giants that roamed the conifer forests of the late Cretaceous: the titanosaurs.
The fossil represents the largest such specimen of the long-neck-and-tail sauropod (“lizard foot”) dinosaurs ever discovered.
A team from Argentina’s Egidio Feruglio Paleontological Museum would recover more than 200 fossils belonging to seven titanosaurs.
In an episode of the PBS documentary series “Nature: Raising the Dinosaur Giant,” now streaming on Netflix, naturalist David Attenborough helps us understand what the fossilized bones tell us about how these massive creatures lived.
He begins this tale 500 miles north of the dig site, where sits the remains of an ancient dinosaur hatchery. For miles, clearly seen shards of broken eggs litter the landscape, a frozen record in stone of ancient flash floods that smashed and buried these eggs under layers of mud.
Among the collection of Argentina’s Carmen Funes Museum are dinosaur eggs with the fossilized remains of dinosaur skin. Other examples reveal small bones within the shell fragments, their skulls bearing sharp beaks (like the egg tooth in modern chicks) that aid in breaking through the shell.
Thanks to the magic of computer-generated imagery, the replica dinosaur egg sitting before Attenborough comes to life, providing the viewer an inside look at the embryonic reptile that will eventually grow to 122 feet from snout to tail and weigh 70 tons.
And computers come into play again when the titanosaur’s bones are scanned and assembled into a 3D computer model. That model helps paleontologists build a life-size replica of the behemoth’s skeleton for mounting and display.
It is an amazing animal that belonged to the most bio-diverse period in Earth history. A time when dinosaurs ruled the world.
“Nature: Raising the Dinosaur Giant” is currently streaming on Netflix.