A newly discovered sauropod dinosaur left behind some epic footprints

Garumbatitan morellensis' vertebrae alone were nearly 3 feet wide.

Meet Garumbatitan morellensis, a new species of large sauropod dinosaur. The Giganotosaurus relative called the present-day Iberian Peninsula home about 122 million years ago. The remains of this titan were discovered in Morella, Spain, and this discovery could help fill in some major evolutionary gaps. The findings were described in a study published September 28 in the journal Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

[Related: Cushy feet supported sauropods’ gigantic bodies.]

G. morellensis belongs to the sauropod group of dinosaurs, which includes some well-known favorites like Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus. Sauropods were four-legged Early Jurassic and Cretaceous Era dinos known for their long necks that could reach up to 49 feet long in some species and lengthy tails. G. morellensis is also a member of a subgroup of sauropods known as titanosaurs. These giants were the largest of an already big group and titanosaurs survived right up until the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs struck about 66 million years ago.

This new dinosaur’s remains were found and excavated in the Sant Antoni de la Vespa fossil-site in 2005 and 2008. This fossil deposit is home to one of the largest concentrations of sauropod dinosaur remains that date back to the Lower Cretaceous period in Europe (about 145 million to 66 million years ago). Scientists found the remains of a giant unidentified sauropod in Portugal in 2022 that could be Europe’s oldest known dinosaur fossil at 150 million-years-old. 

The team of paleontologists from Portugal and Spain found the remains of three G. morellensis individuals and one other sauropod. Their lucky find included a rare set of footprints. They also uncovered giant vertebrae, leg bones, and two near-complete sets of foot bones. 

An artist’s reconstruction of the life appearance of Garumbatitan morellensis. The dinosaur is green with a very long neck and tail, and stands near a waterhole.
An artist’s reconstruction of the life appearance of Garumbatitan morellensis. Grup Guix

“One of the individuals we found stands out for its large size, with vertebrae more than one meter wide [3.2 feet], and a femur that could reach two meters [6.5 feet] in length. We found two almost complete and articulated feet in this deposit, which is particularly rare in the geological record,” study co-author and University of Lisbon paleontologist Pedro Mocho said in a statement

G. morellensis was probably close to an average-size titanosaur and could have been near 94 feet long. Its leg shape and foot bones suggest that it was one of the more primitive sauropods from a subgroup called Somphospondyli, according to the authors. Somphospondylan fossils have been found on every present-day continent, but paleontologists are not sure where they originated. This discovery of such an early specimen in Spain points to Europe as a possible origin point for this subgroup, but more evidence is needed.  

[Related: Europe’s largest dinosaur skeleton may have been hiding in a Portuguese backyard.]

This discovery also highlights how complex the evolutionary history of sauropods in the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe is. Species related to these lineages have been found in Asia, North America, and possibly Africa. This points to a potentially long period of dinosaur dispersal within continents and this fossil deposit might fill in some major gaps of evolutionary history. 

“The future restoration of all fossil materials found in this deposit will add important information to understand the initial evolution of this group of sauropods that dominated dinosaur faunas during the last million years of the Mesozoic era,” study co-author and Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia in Madrid paleontologist Francisco Ortega said in a statement.