Emotion splashes the speech of the paleontologist José Miguel Gasulla, full of hyperbolic adjectives that try to summarize the magnitude of the find. “It is brutal. Spectacular.
There are bones everywhere ”, he comments in reference to the site that has come to light next to the fruitful clay mine of Mas de La Parreta de Morella, in the mountainous Castellón region of Els Ports , and which looks promising in the resolution of the dilemma that exists around Iguanodon.
In an area of just 20 square meters near the Palau farmhouse, a team from the Evolutionary Biology Group of UNED has located “concentrated, crouched”, as if it were a bone tapestry, more than a hundred fossilized remains corresponding to the carcass of a single dinosaur specimen that in all probability belongs to the Iguanodon group , which inhabited the area in the Lower Cretaceous, 126 million years ago.
“It is, without a doubt, one of the best finds of the last two decades” – in Gasulla’s opinion – that emerges in the authentic dinosaur quarry that Morella has become.
A town that treasures with it “one of the most interesting sites in the entire Iberian Peninsula,” he says. Francisco Ortega, who is also paleontologist and director of the Evolutionary Biology Group of UNED, expresses himself in the same vein: “Finding remains of a practically complete specimen gives us the good record to square the puzzle.”
The puzzle –or puzzle- that Ortega alludes to is the dilemma that exists around this genus of dinosaur, “a mixed bag difficult to determine” that is now beginning to outline its edges a little more.
Those who for a week have defined and cleaned the remains to extract any remaining clay from them assure that the Morella bone mosaic will be a key boost in the study of this type of herbivorous and gigantic dinosaur that could measure up to 14 meters from the head at the tail and between three and four meters high.
It will be a trigger to learn more about the group of dinosaurs that includes Morelladon beltran i , described in 2015 in the capital of Els Ports and which was another trigger for progress in resolving the dilemma.
“It will allow us to scientifically compare it with two of the most important internationally,” adds Gasulla. It refers to that of Bernissart, the Belgian mine that brought to light in 1870 up to 20 copies of Iguanodontogether, and that of Galve, in Teruel, cradle of Iguanodon galvensis .
In these two points lie “the only two valid species at this time” and with which comparisons can be made, says Ortega. The material “looks good.” Bones are available from practically all parts of the body.
Several cervical and dorsal vertebrae, elements of the pelvis and sacrum, two femurs, a tibia, a humerus and multiple ribs, among others, help to glimpse the specimen, which is “very complete.” “We don’t even know how to outline the remains, because we put one and another bone comes out next to you,” they explain with emotion from the paleontological team.
Among the remains, the pubis becomes relevant. One of the pieces that can decline the balance and be able to identify to which type of Iguanodon the one that appeared in the Morella subsoil belongs.
The bones of the skull are, experts say, another of the parts with which they hope to gather more information because it can make more differences, unlike what happens with the femur, “very similar between all the specimens.”
In an intense exercise of retrospective, they decipher how the remains of the animal could be crowded together, which in the middle of the Lower Cretaceous crossed Els Ports forming huge herds like those of gazelles or wildebeest on the African continent, “with the exception of its enormous size”, states Francisco Ortega.
The specimen must have been washed away by flooding in a somewhat abrupt way, since “next to the femur the humerus has appeared and in between cranial remains”, the paleontologists point out.
The Els Ports region was 126 million years ago a deltaic system hit by periodic floods followed by periods of drought. The remains of the most imposing animals of that time, the dinosaurs, came here dragged by a low-energy stream of water. Gasulla specifies.
“When the corpse was deposited at the bottom of this stream, it was incorporated into the mud that would give rise to the clay that is now being exploited in the mine. Once the fossilization process started, some parts of the specimen have been preserved as fossils to this day, as is the case ”.
Many unknowns still hover over the specimen located now, despite being the piece of the puzzle that everyone was waiting for. It is not yet known if it is male or female “because in the skeleton of the members of this group, characteristic elements of each gender have not yet been found, something physical that shows us a priori.”
That, and many other details, will have their answer in the laboratory. For now, on the field, the remains speak. “The signs look very good,” they conclude. The puzzle begins to fit