The subject of dinosaurs seems to elicit an awe that doesn't wear out. You can sense that in kids ... or in Diego Pol, 41, paleontologist in chart of a mega-find ... or in David Attenborough, 89, who hosts a film Wednesday on PBS' "Nature." Here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
This wasn't where
you'd expect global history to be made.
It was in Patagonia,
the most sparsely populated region of Argentina ... in the province
of Chubut ... near the town of El Sombrero. There, a worker found
“what we believe to be the largest dinosaur that ever lived,”
said Fred Kaufman, producer of PBS' “Nature,” which features it
What he found was
just part of a bone, sticking out of the rock. The ranch people then
called the museum in Trelew, a Chubut city of 100,000.
“We usually keep
our expectations low when we get these phone calls,” said Diego
Pol, the chief paleontologist. “We get phone calls quite
A few months later,
he and a team went there and began to dig – and dig some more.
“We started to
uncover a really, really large bone,” Pol said. “It was a femur,
the thigh bone. So it was after three days working there we realized
that this was probably the largest dinosaur bone ever found. That was
a very special moment; you have a fantastic fossil in front of you.”
That bone alone was
almost eight feet long, five times the size of a human femur. The
creature, a plant-eater, is estimated at about 121 feet long,
weighting about 77 tons.
“It weighed the
equivalent of 15 elephants,” Kaufman said. “If you've ever lifted
an elephant, you know just how heavy that could be.”
And there was more,
Pol said. “We kept finding more and more bones .... We realized we
didn't have one dinosaur, but we had six and later seven dinosaurs
that died there.”
News of the finding
caused a stir in England. “It opens horizons for children,” said
Charlotte Scott of the BBC. “If you've been brought up in the city
and all you've seen is high-rise buildings, suddenly there's a whole
world up there that involved monsters and dinosaurs and great
beasts.” Indeed, in modern times this creature would be capable of
peering through a seventh-story window.
The BBC filmed the
project. Soon, Sir David Attenborough, 89, was meeting Pol ... and
seeing a replica of the skeleton ... and (via special effect) seeing
an animated approximation of the creature.
For Attenborough –
whose big brother Richard, ironically, played the guy who brought
dinosaurs back to life in “Jurassic Park” -- this was easy duty.
“Every child knows perfectly well how exciting it is to think about
dinosaurs,” he said. “I certainly thought that when I was a boy,
and I still feel that.”
He did his first
nature TV show 61 years ago – which was 20 years before Pol was
“When I was 5, 6,
7, I was certainly interested in dinosaurs,” Pol said. “But not
only dinosaurs, also fossil mammals like the giant sloths and giant
His high school was
affiliated with Buenos Aires University and had paleontologists come
to the classrooms. At the college, he did his undergrad thesis on an
ancestor to modern crocodiles. In 1993, he began going on digs each
summer, usually to Patagonia, Argenina's southern-most region; in
'97, he had a first when he found a complete skeleton of the pre-croc
species he'd been studying.
Two years later, Pol
began working and studying in New York at the American Museum of
Natural History (the same place that now holds a cast of the new
creature's skeleton). He received a doctorate at Columbia and
returned to Argentina, a mother lode for dinosaurs.
– a member of the titanosaur group – had been considered the
biggest creature ever. The first bone was discovered by an Argentine
rancher in 1987 and wasn't identified as a dinosaur until '93. With
few bones available, it's been variously estimated at 72 to 98 feet.
But now comes this
discovery, bigger and more complete. When a scientific paper is
published, it will be given its official name.
“Sirdavidsaurus''? Attenborough offered a different suggestion:
-- “Nature,” 8
p.m. Wednesdays, PBS (check local listings)
-- “Raising the
Dinosaur Giant” is Feb. 17