Highly Intact Titanosaurus Skull Discovered, Findings Presented In Pittsburgh

Apr 27, 2016

Sarmientosaurus' bones are approximately 95 million years old.
Credit Mora McLaughlin / 90.5 WESA

Paleontologists have unearthed the most well-intact titanosaur skull ever found. The herbivore was 40-to-50 feet long and weighed twice that of an average zoo elephant.

After presenting their findings in Pittsburgh, Dr. Rubén D. F. Martínez of the Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco; Dr. Lawrence Witmer of Ohio State University and Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History published their research in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

The dinosaur, named Sarmientosaurus after a nearby town, was found in the rugged Patagonia region of Argentina. This area is known for being ripe with ancient fossils, according to Lamanna.

“The rocks are beautifully exposed, they erode very rapidly," Lamanna said. "So new rock is exposed almost every year, and if new rock is exposed you can have new fossils exposed as well."

A 3-D rendering of Sarmientosaurus' brain
Credit Mora McLaughlin / 90.5 WESA

When the bones were first spotted, scientists assumed it was only the neck of a dinosaur, which are more common. Instead, they found a whole skull.

Lamanna said those on the dig site were very lucky to find the dinosaur’s head positioned upside-down in the rock.

“That actually led to the extraordinary preservation of this skull," he said. "This is arguably the best-preserved skull of any titanosaur ever found anywhere in the world."

With an intact skull, researchers were able to gain a better understanding of how the animal once behaved.

“Sarmientosaurus is very different," Lamanna said. "It’s got a much broader snout with much more robust teeth, and that’s interesting. That suggests that different titanosaurs were probably feeding on different types of plants. That makes a lot of sense when you’re a multi-ton, plant-eating animal, or a multi-ton animal of any kind. If one or more of these things are going to share the same environment, probably, they were splitting up the food resources.”

Using a CT scan, they were then able to create a rendering of what the animal’s brain may have looked like. Witmer said after examining preserved structures within the ear, they were able to determine that Sarmientosaurus may have been able to pick up low-frequency sounds, much like elephants or whales.

“They might actually have been low-frequency sounds to potentially track the movements of their herd as these animals spread out over the countryside,” he said. “These animals might have actually heard the sounds of their footsteps. These are the ‘thunder lizards’ that shook the ground when they moved.”

The 3-D rendering of the skull and brain will be on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History this week.