A new species of dinosaur, Transylvanosaurus platycephalus“The flat-headed reptile from Transylvania”, discovered in the UNESCO International Geopark Șara Hațegului by an international team of researchers.

An international team of paleontologists, led by Felix Augustin from the University of Tübingen, which includes university professor Dr. Zoltán Csiki-Sava from the Faculty of Geology and Geophysics of the University of Bucharest, Dylan Bastiaans from the University of Zurich and the independent researcher Mihai Dumbravă from Dorset, discovered a new species of dinosaur that lived on the current territory of the UNESCO International Geopark The country of Hațeg.

This herbivorous dinosaur, named Transylvanosaurus platycephalus according to the area where the fossils were found, it lived about 70 million years ago, says the team led by paleontologist Felix Augustin from the University of Tübingen. The discovery was recently published in the journal Journal of Vertebrate Paleontologyinforms the University of Bucharest.

What does the name of the dinosaur discovered in Șara Hațegului mean?

His name Transylvanosaurus platycephalus literally means “reptile with flattened (flat) head from Transylvania”.

The bones discovered, parts of his skull Transylvanosaurus, provides new insight into the evolution of European fauna shortly before the extinction of the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago. This previously unknown species of dinosaur was about two meters long, walked on two legs and belonged to the family Rhabdodontidae. The body of the new dinosaur was small, as in the case of other dinosaurs discovered on the territory of Hateg County, already known as “dwarf dinosaurs”.

“The limited food resources that were available in these parts of Europe at that time led to a reduction in the body size of these animals,” says paleontologist Felix Augustin.

Europe was a tropical archipelago

During most of the Cretaceous period, which spanned between 145 and 66 million years ago, Europe was a tropical archipelago. Transylvanosaurus it lived on one of the many islands of the archipelago, alongside other dwarf dinosaurs, crocodiles, turtles and pterosaurs.

“With each newly discovered species, we disprove the widely held hypothesis that the late Cretaceous fauna would have had a low diversity in the present-day European territory,” adds paleontologist Felix Augustin.

During the Late Cretaceous, Rhabdodontidae was the best represented group of small-medium European herbivores. Related species previously found in Hațeg, as it is Zalmoxeshad much less flattened skulls than Transylvanosaurus.

Where did the new dinosaur’s closest relatives live?

To the researchers’ surprise, the closest relatives of the new dinosaur lived in what is today France, thus raising the question: how did it end up Transylvanosaurus to populate the “Dwarf Dinosaur Island” that then covered the territory of Transylvania?

In the article describing the new species, paleontologists Felix Augustin, his doctoral coordinator, Zoltán Csiki-Sava from the University of Bucharest, Dylan Bastiaans from the University of Zürich / Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, and independent researcher Mihai Dumbravă from Dorset, investigated various possibilities.

The oldest fossils attributed to the group Rhabdodontidae they come from Eastern Europe. From there, these animals could have spread to the west, and later certain species could have returned to the current territory of Hațegului. Fluctuations in sea level and tectonic processes led to the creation of temporary land bridges between the various islands, which allowed the dinosaurs to spread to other territories, the researchers say. In addition, it can be assumed that almost all dinosaurs, incl Transylvanosaurus, were able to swim to some extent. “They had strong legs and tails. Most species, especially reptiles, can swim from the time they are born,” continues paleontologist Felix Augustin.

They discovered dinosaur skull bones in a river bed

An alternative scenario considers that certain groups of rhabdodontids they developed in parallel in the east and west of the archipelago. Researchers still cannot say exactly how this species arrived in Transylvania, on the current territory of the UNESCO International Geopark Ţara Hațegului. “Currently, we have too little data available to answer this question,” adds Felix Augustin.

The taxonomic identification was made starting from a few fossils that are no more than 12 cm – the back part of the skull, with the occipital foramen, and the two frontal bones. “On the inside of the frontal bone we could even make out the outline of his brain Transylvanosaurus” said paleontologist Dylan Bastiaans from the University of Zürich.

Zoltán Csiki-Sava and his team from the University of Bucharest discovered the bones of his skull Transylvanosaurus platycephalus in 2007 in the bed of a river in the Geopark. In fact, Șara Hațegului is one of the most important places in Europe in terms of the discovery of vertebrates from the Late Cretaceous period. In total, ten species of dinosaurs have been identified here so far.

“This diversity is something unusual”

“This diversity is something unusual. In most cases, the discoveries in Hațeg consist of only a few bones, but even these can sometimes provide amazing information – as is now the case of Transylvanosaurus“, states Csiki-Sava.

The fossils of Transylvanosaurus they were able to survive for tens of millions of years because they were protected by the sediments of an ancient riverbed – until the waters of another river in our time brought them back to the surface.

“If the dinosaur’s skeleton had simply been exposed to the surface, instead of being partially buried by river sediments, weather conditions and scavengers would have destroyed all its remains at a rapid pace, and we would never have known about the existence of this species.” concludes paleontologist Felix Augustin.

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