One of the most interesting Palaeontological site in Italy is located in Villaggio del Pescatore, in the Municipality of Duino Aurisina, near Trieste.
The first fossil remains were discovered towards the end of the '80s by some amateur researchers. They identified traces of fossilized organisms in an area by the seashore, near an abandoned quarry. Thanks to this finding, a preliminary excavation campaign, granted by the competent Ministry to the Town Museum of Natural History in Trieste (Museo Civico di Storia Naturale), started at the beginning of the '90s. One of the finds was a pair of paws perfectly preserved in anatomical connection. The characteristics of these fossil remains enabled to classify them as belonging to the group of dinosaurs.
By chance, a student of the Faculty of Geological sciences of the University of Trieste was assigned the geological survey of the area. In April 1994, while she was surveying the area, she saw an outcrop with the forepaw of a fossil reptile among the limestone rocks. It was the discovery of that, by now well-known, specimen that we familiarly call Antonio.
The discovery urged the Ministry to start a new and deeper excavation campaign in the year 1996-1997. Because of the vertical stratigraphy of the layers, it was thought that the forepaw continued in depth and belonged to a complete skeleton. The excavation was carried out by the company "Stoneage" of Trieste, which is an expert in paleontological excavations, in collaboration with the University of Trieste in 1998-1999. Besides the almost complete specimen, also a rich fauna, consisting of other specimen of dinosaurs of the same species, one of them called Bruno, some disarticulated bones of other specimens, fossils of primitive crocodiles, fish and shrimps, as well as vegetal remains were brought to light.
It took six months of fieldwork and 3.500 hours of lab preparation to extract the biggest and most complete Italian and European dinosaur. It was necessary to use particular methodologies to extract the fossils from the rock, during both the excavation and the subsequent operations of preparation. The verticality of the layers and the soil morphology actually impeded the use of traditional techniques. After having assessed risks and benefits, using a totally innovative technique, the fossiliferous layer was cut horizontally at an average depth of two meters from the surface. Then, another diamond wire cut was carried out perpendicularly to the former one. Thus, two degrees of freedom were created in the rock structure that, combinied with the natural fracturing of the limestone, isolated a series of big blocks, which then were handled by excavators. The preparation was carried out with innovative techonologies too.
Once the remarkable differences of chemistry between the fossil and the matrix and the irrilevant mechanical discontinuity has been ascertained, an attack with acid buffer solution was calibrated by using a series of closed circuit pumps; this way it was possible to dissolve the rock without damaging the specimen. The technique, though well konwn, has never been used for dinosaur-sized fossils. Indeed, the very sizes of the rock blocks, their weights, the internal micro-fracturing and the fragility of some fossil structures gave the technicians of Stoneage many problems that were solved with a teamwork that involved also international experts of the sector.
This fossiliferous deposit is one of the most important discoveries of the Italian palaeontology of the 20th century. Up to now, these are the only dinosaurs found in Italy in a stratigraphic corrispondence and they are the only ones that are still subject of systematic excavation and scientific research. The attribution of the dinosaur Antonio to the group of hadrosauris, close relatives of the American hadrosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs), dates back to December 2009.
The presence of this terrestrial reptiles in Nord-East Italy has led to a substantial revision of the palaeographical reconstruction of the Trieste Caros in the Upper Cretaceous, which was believed a marine or lagoon environment. On the contrary, in this area the latest studies suppose the presences of lands above the sea level, very probably an archipelago of islands, where tongues of mainland connected one island to the other in period of marine regression.
For information and didactic visits to the Palaeontological site of the dinosaur Antonio, please contact:
Speleological Group Flondar
each Mondays from 4.00 to 7.00pm
ph.: +39 040 208052
mob.: +39 347 7393118
ANTONIO'S SCIENTIFIC SHEET
Scientific name: Tethyshadros insularis, F. M. Dalla Vecchia 2009. It means "island dweller hadrosauris dinosaur of the Tethys Ocean".
Type of dinosaur: primitive hadrosaurid.
Lenght: 4 meters.
Height: about 130cm.
Sex: it is not possible to establish it.
Features of the skeleton:
- big and stretched head, similar to that of a horse;
- three fingered hand;
- strong hind paws probably fit for running;
- tail with a thin, whip-shaped end;
- the skeleton has unique and peculiar characteristics that clearly distinguish it from its America cousins, the Hadrosaurs, the famous duck-billed dinosaurs.
Environment: it probably lived in a rather small island located on the western part of the ancient ocean called the Tethys Ocean.
Animals found in the deposit:
- other individuals of the same species and some single bones;
- small sidarticulated fish;
- a bone of pterosaur (one of the first vertebrates that could fly) and perhaps a bone of tehropod (bone belonging to the group of dinosaurs that mainly included bipeds and carniovres).
Geologic Period: Upper Cretaceous. Antonio lived about 70 million years ago.