Advertisement

70 million-year-old giant dinosaur skeleton found connected from skull to tail

Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news on fascinating discoveries, scientific advancements and more.

A chance discovery made in southern France has revealed a rare specimen — an almost complete dinosaur skeleton found connected from its hind skull to its tail.

The massive fossil came to light in May 2022, after now 25-year-old amateur paleontologist Damien Boschetto and his dog stumbled across something unusual while walking in a forest in Montouliers, France. Boschetto had noticed a cliff edge that had recently collapsed and decided to take a closer look, when he spotted an exposed bone sticking out of the ground, local media outlet France Bleu first reported on February 13.

The Archaeological and Paleontological Cultural Association at the Cruzy Museum, in collaboration with the French National Center for Scientific Research, identified the nearly 10-meter-long (32.8-foot-long) fossil as a Titanosaur skeleton upon excavation. Boschetto, who has been a member of the association for eight years, told CNN that while unearthing dinosaur remains is “always exciting and interesting for scientific research and the understanding of the ecosystems of that time,” finding the bones in their almost original anatomical position is what makes this find extraordinary.

“From a museography point of view, it will make it possible to present to the general public animals almost complete in anatomical positions, which is something great,” Boschetto added via email.

The massive fossil was discovered in May 2022 when a collapsed cliff edge had left a bone exposed. - Damien Boschetto
The massive fossil was discovered in May 2022 when a collapsed cliff edge had left a bone exposed. - Damien Boschetto

A group of history and archaeology enthusiasts created the Archaeological and Paleontological Cultural Association in 1975 to safeguard the heritage around the village of Cruzy, with several members becoming enlightened amateurs in paleontology due to the areas’ wealth of dinosaur fossils, said Jean-Marc Veyssières, a member of the group and one of the fossil preparers for this discovery. Today, the association is made up of inhabitants of the region, including a few scientists as well as students.

“The most exciting thing was to realize that we had at least one anatomically connected animal and that it was a titanosaur, a long-necked dinosaur,” said Veyssières in an email. “(Boschetto) is an enlightened enthusiast and curious about nature, he spends a lot of time surveying the region in search of new areas. … He became an expert on the Late Cretaceous fauna of our region.”

The association has been excavating the site, which Boschetto referred to as a bone bed, a term used by paleontologists to describe a dense area of animal bones and other fossilized remains, for the past two years. And the newly announced find was not Boschetto’s first.

The recently revealed 70% complete Titanosaur skeleton was retrieved during the excavation along with several fossils of various dinosaurs and other vertebrates, including some in anatomical connection and near complete. Other remains identified included those of a Rhabdodon — a herbivore, or plant-eater, like the Titanosaur — and fragments from skeletons of carnivores such as Theropods and crocodiles, according to Boschetto.

The Titanosaur skeleton currently resides in the Cruzy Museum’s laboratory, where it will be further studied, Veyssières said.

Damien Boschetto (left) and Jean-Marc Veyssières (right) are members of the Archaeological and Paleontological Cultural Association with the Cruzy Museum, where the fossil is now held. - Damien Boschetto
Damien Boschetto (left) and Jean-Marc Veyssières (right) are members of the Archaeological and Paleontological Cultural Association with the Cruzy Museum, where the fossil is now held. - Damien Boschetto

Titanosaur found intact

Researchers estimated the age of the newly discovered fossil to be around 70 to 72 million years old, but Titanosaurs roamed around on four legs from the Late Jurassic Epoch to the end of the Cretaceous Period, approximately 163.5 million to 66 million years ago. Titanosaurs belong to a larger group of dinosaurs known as sauropods, a family of long-necked herbivores that were some of the largest dinosaurs of their time, according to Britannica.

Remains of Titanosaur fossils are widely unearthed in Europe, but few are discovered in anatomical connection, Boschetto said. Finding a skeleton in this connected state suggests that the body was buried before it had entirely decomposed, leaving “some tissues connecting the bones to one another,” said Matthew Carrano, research geologist and curator of Dinosauria at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.

The completeness of the specimen will “make it easier to determine whether it’s a new species or a new specimen of a species that’s already known,” Carrano said in an email. “It will take time to learn all the details about this new specimen, but I’m sure it will provide important new information about this group of dinosaurs.”

The region in which Boschetto discovered the specimen is known to be rich in fossils of dinosaurs and other species living at the same time and is “building one of the largest collections of dinosaurs from the Upper Cretaceous in France,” he said. The association did not publicize the discovery until excavation was complete to protect the archaeological site, he added.

The association plans to continue research on the fossils and to further search the area, and the group’s members hope to obtain the funds to “create a large-scale museum that can accommodate and present these collections,” Boschetto said.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com