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'Perijasaurus lapaz': the Colombian dinosaur discovered thanks to the peace process with the FARC


This four-legged herbivore with a tiny head and very long neck and tail inhabited the tropics 175 million years ago.

Paleontologists Mónica Carvalho and Jeff Wilson with the vertebra of the new dinosaur 'Perijasaurus lapaz' at the University of Michigan.


175 million years ago, a herbivorous dinosaur with four strong and robust legs, a tiny head and a very long neck and tail walked through what is now known as the Serranía del Perijá, in the department of Cesar, in the north of Colombia. this week he was an unknown to science.

The discovery of this new species of dinosaur, the second of Colombian origin, helps to better understand the evolutionary history of these prehistoric giants in South America.

Digital reconstruction of the dinosaur.

—Can we say that we have a new Colombian dinosaur?

-Yes, definitely.

This species does not seem to be related to dinosaurs that inhabited the tropics during the early Jurassic.

The answer is Aldo Rincón Burbano, professor at the Department of Physics and Geosciences of the Universidad del Norte, in Barranquilla, and main author of the article that described the new species, published in the

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology


"The main differences between our dinosaur and the others are in the preserved morphology of the vertebra," Burbano tells EL PAÍS.

Burbano worked on this research with Jeffrey Wilson Mantilla, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan, United States;

Martín Ezcurra, curator of the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences;

Harold Jiménez, a geologist from the EAFIT University, in Medellín, and with Daniel Raad, an exploration geologist from the Universidad del Norte.

Raad reveals that they named the new species of dinosaur

Perijasaurus lapaz

: "Perijá after the place where the fossil was found and lapaz in homage to the peace agreement signed between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas in 2016", explains the geologist.

The delivery of weapons and the decrease in the intensity of the war allowed scientists to calmly enter and study an area that was difficult to access, controlled for a long time by the guerrillas.

In fact, Professor Aldo Burbano recounts that during the year in which they were doing field work, looking for fossils and taking samples, they stayed in the Territorial Space for Training and Reincorporation of Tierra Grata, an area occupied by ex-combatants who signed the agreement of peace and now dedicated to ecotourism and logistics for bird watching in natural landscapes.

I liked having the opportunity to visit the Serranía del Perijá after the peace accords.

Unfortunately, entry for scientists was restricted for many years,” says Burbano.

Aldo Rincón Burbano, professor at the Department of Physics at the Universidad del Norte, in the Serranía del Perijá.


Giant fossils instead of oil wells

The story of the discovery of the dinosaur

Perijasaurus lapaz

begins on March 27, 1943. That day, in the middle of an oil exploration campaign, a geologist from the Tropical Oil Company found a heavy and strange fossil half a meter high and wide that did not seemed to correspond to no animal in the area.

The discovery occurred between the basins of the Cesar River and the Ranchería River, in the middle of the Serranía del Perijá, near a highway that goes to the municipality of Manaure, in La Guajira.

The geologist looking for oil wells had found a vertebra from the dorsal column of a dinosaur, but he didn't know it.

He took the bone with sediments to the United States and gave it to the scientific collections of the University of California, Berkeley.

Twelve years later, in 1955, a preliminary article titled

A Sauropod Dinosaur from Colombia

was published .

The document did not specify what species it was or what importance the finding had for science.

All it revealed was that the fossil belonged to sauropods, long-necked herbivorous dinosaurs.

After the publication of the article, the fossil was forgotten for decades.

It was only in 2018 that paleontologist Jeffrey Wilson Mantilla managed to secure a Fulbright grant to study the fossil with Professor Burbano and the other scientists.

The researchers cleaned up the bone, removing the plaster and glue that had been put on it decades ago, and discovered parts of the vertebra that initially did not resemble any other species.

"We were able to better visualize the delicate bony sheets that interconnect the spine, the intervertebral joints, the rib joints," explains Mantilla in a press release from the Universidad del Norte.

It was precisely during this cleaning process that scientists discovered that the fossil had unique morphological characteristics that differentiated it from the other described species.

Following the trail of an ancient map

Daniel Raad remembers that in 1943 the geologists of the oil company drew a map by hand showing the location of the fossil and the depth at which they had found it.

"What we did was an overlay with that map and a current map to go to the location where the vertebra was found."

With the guerrilla in arms they would not have been able to go.

"There a stratigraphic column was raised in order to identify the layer where the vertebra came from," says Raad.

The scientist explains that sediment was still preserved inside the fossil and that this helped them find the layer where the vertebra was originally.

"There we found remains of fossilized leaves and trunks, which is consistent with an environment with a high preservation potential, that is, where many fossils can be found."

According to Raad, vegetation fossils found near the vertebrae reveal that

Perijasaurus lapaz "

lived in a low-sloping riparian forest area."

And he concludes: "The scientific relevance lies in what helps us to understand how these great dinosaurs evolved in the tropics, a little explored area that presents many challenges, not only human but also geological, because the preservation potential decreases due to to high precipitation rates that increase erosion rates.

This means that we may never find many fossils that have been eroded away."

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2022-08-15

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