BRUSSELS, Belgium – From May 2016, with the support of the Brussels Capital region, the Museum of Natural Sciences will host, in the form of a permanent loan, an authentic fossilised Plateosaurus skeleton.
Dating from the Triassic period, this big herbivorous dinosaur is one of the first big dinosaurs. It came to us directly from the Frick quarry (Switzerland), in “separate parts”. Fossilised bones, distributed between several blocks are still protected by their outer shell of sediment and plaster.
Its preparation and assembly require extremely precise, meticulous work, which will take at least a year. Only after this will the plateosaurus be able to take its place in the Museum. Its presentation to the general public is scheduled for 2017.
Pascal Godefroit, paleontologist and head of the Earth and Natural History Department at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (IRSNB), is managing the behind-the-scenes work with a team of three technicians.
What is a Plateosaurus?
Measuring over 5 metres in length and living approximately 210 million years ago, it is one of the biggest dinosaurs of the Triassic period (its predecessors were no bigger than 1.5 m). It was also one of the very first “long-necks”. This herbivorous dinosaur indeed belonged to the prosauropods lineage, precursors of the sauropods like Diplodocus. It had a long tail and a relatively elongated neck. Its big size enabled it to feed on a wide variety of plants, but it probably ate anything it could sink its teeth into. A quadruped, Plateosaurus could stand on its hind legs on occasion, to eat the leaves of the highest branches, for example. It lived in herds and could defend itself with the powerful claws of its front legs.
Where does our fossilised specimen come from?
Our plateosaurus comes from the Frick quarry in Switzerland. This specimen has not been found anywhere outside Europe: it has been found only in Germany, Switzerland and France. The Frick quarry is an exceptional deposit of dinosaurs from the end of the Triassic period (around 210 million years ago). Over the last 40 years, more than 30 more-or-less complete Plateosaurus skeletons have been found there. Although the initial discoveries were mostly accidental, several systematic excavations have been planned and executed since 1976. The substantial material discovered recently has given us a better understanding of the anatomy and way of life of the Plateosaurus.
After Bernissart (near Mons in Belgium, the place where the Iguanodons were discovered in 1878), Frick is one of the richest deposits of articulated dinosaur skeletons in Europe. These dinosaurs were probably engulfed by mud in the vast swamps that covered the region at the end of the Triassic period.
The Sauriermuseum in Frick proposed a permanent loan to our institute of a complete Plateosaurus specimen. Too many unprepared fossils are piling up in their storage areas and they are not capable of preparing them all. So, they prefer to send them abroad. The host institution has to prepare the loaned skeleton and can display it in its own exhibition hall.