Dinosaur experts re-create movement of giant 80-tonne Argentinosaurus

University of Manchester team virtually remodel dinosaur movements

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The Independent Online

The steps taken by one of the biggest dinosaurs to ever walk the earth have been virtually reconstructed by scientists.

The movements of the Argentinosaurus, who walked the planet more than 94 million years ago, have been digitally remodelled by experts from the University of Manchester.

The team used a laser to scan a 40 metre-long skeleton of the 80 tonne beast housed in the Carmen Funes museum in Argentina to create the digital dinosaur.

Lead scientist Dr Bill Sellers, from the university's Faculty of Life Sciences, explained: “If you want to work out how dinosaurs walked, the best approach is computer simulation. This is the only way of bringing together all the different strands of information we have on this dinosaur, so we can reconstruct how it once moved.”

The Argentinosaurus was a plant-eater that stood as tall as a three-storey building and stretched to 38 metres (125 feet) in length. It would have weight ten times the size of the biggest elephant.

When it was alive, the Andes mountains were mere hillocks and arid North Patagonia consisted of steamy jungle and grassland.

Some scientists have been sceptical as to whether the animal could have walked at all because of its heavy weight, or argued that estimates of its weight had been exaggerated.

The team mapped muscles and tendons onto the skeleton using the anatomy of modern reptiles as a guide. The simulated dinosaur then took information programmed into its muscles in order to 'learn' how to walk.

Researchers found that the Argentinosaurus was able to support its body weight by severely restricting the range of movements made by its limbs.

Dr Lee Margetts, a member of the Manchester team, said: “The new study clearly demonstrates the dinosaur was more than capable of strolling across the Cretaceous planes of what is now Patagonia, South America.”

Dr Sellers added: “The important thing is that these animals are not like any animal alive today and so we can't just copy a modern animal. Our machine learning system works purely from the information we have on the dinosaur and predicts the best possible movement patterns.

“Argentinosaurus is the biggest animal that ever walked on the surface of the earth and understanding how it did this will tell us a lot about the maximum performance of the vertebrate musculoskeletal system. We need to know more about this to help understand how it functions in ourselves.

The research was published in the journal PLoS ONE.