Biggest killer dinosaurs unearthed in Patagonia

Palaeontologists working in Patagonia have tracked down the biggest flesh-eater ever to walk the Earth, finally confirming theories put forward by the late novelist Bruce Chatwin about the lives and stomping grounds of dinosaurs.

Almost 20 years ago, in his book In Patagonia, Chatwin described how his obsession with a scrap of skin compelled him to track down the cave of a prehistoric giant sloth - the glyptodon. The tale of this personal quest in a remote landscape was to spur a scientific monster hunt throughout Argentina's southern badlands, east of the Andes. The place turned out to be cluttered with the ancient bones of prehistoric giants, like some Jurassic memorial park.

In the 10 years since Chatwin's death, the fossil boneyards beneath Patagonia's arid dunes have yielded rich finds, and professional fossil-hunters go to great lengths to gather more. The latest discoveries, announced this week, alter academic theories of dinosaur behaviour.

Long before there were gauchos, pampas, or even Andes mountains, huge herds of saurian beasts rumbled across a lush Patagonia. Huge is the key word here: investigation of six partial skeletons unearthed by a team of Argentine and Canadian palaeontologists reveals that dagger-toothed dinosaurs, five feet longer than Tyrannosaurus rex, may have formed into packs to stalk reptilian prey even more immense.

Everywhere else, carnivorous dinosaurs have been identified as solitary hunters. But in Patagonia, theevidence points to plant-eating dinosaurs that grew so big that only co-operative, pack-hunting tactics, similar to those of wolves, could bring them down.

Next month, helicopters will help haul out the neck vertebrae - each nearly four foot across - of another newly identified dinosaur species. The Rio Negro giant, a 160ft-long swamp-dwelling creature bigger than any other, was excavated in January from a desolate Patagonian grazing spot called La Buitrera (the buzzard cage).

Although huge, the Rio Negro giant had a tiny head on a serpentine neck. Stretching up to nibble fruits, it would have looked like the Loch Ness monster of legend on steroids, as large as a five-storey building.

Carlos Munoz, an Argentine paleontologist who took part in the dig, believes these creatures moved in herds, like elephants, and defended themselves by lashing out with their powerful tails. They were trailed by small packs of fierce predators, each 50 times larger than a cow.

Last week, Dr Philip Currie of the Royal Tyrrel Museum in Canada, announced that his team's latest discovery in Patagonia beats all records for carnivore size. The still nameless prehistoric beast - 45ft from snout to tail, weighing nearly nine tons - appears closely related to the gigantosaurus, an outsized meat-eating cousin discovered in 1993 in the same area, 640 miles south of Buenos Aires.

"This guy has a long snout, long skull, incredibly sharp teeth - I think it would have been terrifying," Dr Currie said. Last year, he undertook a joint excavation after a goatherd glimpsed what turned out to be 100-million-year-old bones and tipped off Rodolfo Corio, a Patagonian paleontologist, about their location.

Because these bones were found at the same geological level as Argentinosaurus - the world's largest herbivore until the Rio Negro giant was dug up - local scientists assume they were direct links in the food chain. Dr Corio believes the sophisticated communication required to stalk such large prey in packs might also have led the flesh-eaters to practise "patterns of conduct protecting their young".

Dr Corio works at the Carmen Furnes Museum in Neuquen, 50 miles from the Police Hill site where he excavated alongside scientists from the Tyrrel Museum. To finance his digs, Dr Corio won grants from such unlikely sponsors as Universal Studios and Microsoft.

Considering the age of the bones, the pace of discovery in Patagonia is rapid. Last May, a 10-year-old boy stumbled on an 85-million-year-old dinosaur tail while walking his dog in the hills behind his home. Rafael Moyano was scouting for sea shells on the cliffsides for his collection. The fully articulated tail he showed palaeontologists was declared a major find.

A team from Los Angeles found a vast nesting ground nearby, with 300 dinosaur eggs scattered on the side of an extinct volcano. Among them were parts of fossilised embryos, a rare and valuable find, and scraps of fossil dinosaur skin with a complete skeleton. Further south, weather researchers on James Ross Island found deep-frozen bones of a 74-million-year-old dinosaur.

The enormous trophies unearthed in Patagonia have become a source of national pride for Argentines. Marcelo de la Fuente, a paleontologist from La Plata Museum, said: "Africa was the birthplace of man, and our country was the birthplace of dinosaurs."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall