Bones Poking Out of Backyard May Be the Largest Dinosaur Ever Found in Europe

Sometimes, huge discoveries are hiding close to home.

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Three workers stand over the massive ribs of a sauropod dinosaur.
The sauropod ribs excavated from a backyard in Pombal, Portugal.
Photo: Photo courtesy of Instituto Dom Luiz (Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon) (Portugal)

In 2017, a property owner in Pombal, Portugal, spotted some fossilized bones emerging from the dirt in his backyard. Earlier this month, a team of paleontologists studying the remains announced that they could belong to the largest dinosaur ever found in Europe.

The bones—vertebrae and some ribs, specifically—belonged to a sauropod that roamed what is now Portugal between 160 million and 100 million years ago. Sauropods are the group of large, herbivorous dinosaurs that include Brontosaurus, Diplodocus, and the massive Patagotitan. The group walked on all fours, and are most identifiable by their tremendous size and elongated necks.

“It is not usual to find all the ribs of an animal like this, let alone in this position, maintaining their original anatomical position,” said Elisabete Malafaia, a paleontologist at the University of Lisbon, in a university release. “This mode of preservation is relatively uncommon in the fossil record of dinosaurs, in particular sauropods, from the Portuguese Upper Jurassic.”

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An excavator works on some of the dinosaur bones in the ground.
One of the excavation team members working on the dinosaur bones.
Photo: Photo courtesy of Instituto Dom Luiz (Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon) (Portugal)

The Portuguese and Spanish team excavating the backyard bones estimate the animal they belonged to was about 40 feet tall and 82 feet long. It doesn’t rival the largest sauropods (several of which are from Argentina) in terms of size, but it still could be the largest-yet-known European dinosaur.

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Last month, fossilized fragments of an animal believed to be the largest-known carnivorous dinosaur from Europe were discovered on the Isle of Wight, a landmass off the southern coast of England.

Excavations are still underway in the backyard. Based on the preservation of the ribs and vertebrae, the team suspects that other parts of the sauropod’s skeleton are also intact, though not yet unearthed. As digs proceed, the research team may be able to better understand exactly what they’ve found.

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