Scientists Have Discovered A New Dinosaur In Russia – And This Beast Was Absolutely Enormous

It’s 1982 and paleontologist Vladimir Efimov has stumbled across three giant vertebrae buried in a Russian cliff. Some 20 years later, another researcher decides to reexamine the bones. But by now, another four fossils have been added to the collection – revealing a massive monster that once weighed over 17 tons.

Although they roamed the earth millions of years ago, dinosaurs continue to spark our imaginations today. Many, including the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex and the long-necked, herbivorous Diplodocus, are instantly recognizable. This perhaps is due to their starring roles in numerous museum exhibits and movies.

But despite their high-profile place in modern culture, there are still many things about these impressive beasts that we don’t know. Indeed, there are around 1,000 different types of dinosaur currently recognized by scientists. Yet it’s likely that there are many more still waiting to be discovered.

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65 million years ago, the end-Cretaceous extinction is believed to have wiped around 75 percent of life from Earth. But even after so much time has passed, scientists are today learning new things about the creatures that had been wiped out. And when ancient fossils are discovered, they open up a window into the distant past.

In 1982 Russian paleontologist Vladimir Efimov was near Slantsevy Rudnik, a village near the embankments of the Volga River in west Russia. Apparently, a high cliff in the region had collapsed, revealing something amazing that had been buried in the rock. There, he discovered three large vertebrae belonging to an unknown creature.

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“[The fossils] come from a cliff of marine sediments which are rich in invertebrate fossils such as ammonite and bones [of] marine reptiles,” the Russian Academy of Science’s Dr. Alexander Averianov told Fox News in December 2018. But at first, Efimov did not realize the significance of what he had discovered.

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For years, the vertebrae languished in obscurity. But the fragile cliffs of the Volga River had not yet given up all of their secrets. And over a three-year period spanning 1984 to 1987 another three sections of limestone broke off. Among them, four more fossils were discovered.

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Amazingly, it would be another ten years before the find was recorded in writing. In 1997 Efimov wrote that he had discovered, “giant vertebrae of unknown taxonomic affiliation.” But after that, there appears to have been no further research on the fossils for another 20 years – until Averianov came into the picture.

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A doctor of biological sciences, Averianov was conducting research into sauropods – a group of dinosaurs known for their long necks and tails. These include beasts such as the Diplodocus and the Brontosaurus. The titanosaurs, too, are considered sauropods – tinanosaurs are thought to be some of the largest animals ever to walk the earth.

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“I started my work on sauropods quite recently,” Averianov explained to Fox News. “[The work is] published on sauropod remains from the Late Cretaceous of Uzbekistan and [describes] the first sauropod taxa from Russia, Tengrisaurus and Sibirotitan, in 2017 and 2018 respectively.” However, he would soon stumble across one of his most exciting projects yet.

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In July 2017 Averianov visited the Undorovsky Paleontological Museum in the Volga region of Russia as part of his research. There, he met with Efimov and decided to take a look at the fossils that had been discovered more than 30 years before. And soon, he realized that they had something truly special on their hands.

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Averianov observed that the vertebrae, which would once have formed part of the creature’s tail, had an unusual shape. However, it wasn’t until he left the museum that he realized just how unique the fossils really were. In fact, they belonged to a type of dinosaur that had never been seen before.

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“[After] checking the literature when I returned home, [I] confirmed that this is a new taxon (group) of titanosaurian sauropods,” Averianov explained to Fox News. And soon, the Akson Russian Science Communication Association had a team of paleontologists on the case. Gradually, they assembled a collection of data on the new creature.

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Apparently, a specific part of the creature’s tail bone known as the caudal vertebrae revealed that the fossils likely came from a fully-grown dinosaur. Furthermore, the structure of the bones themselves exhibited certain characteristics. And these led experts to believe that they were dealing with a new discovery.

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In November 2018 Averianov and Efimov published the results of their study in Biological Communications. This is a scientific journal connected with Russia’s Saint Petersburg University that was initially published in 1946 as Vestnik of Leningrad University. In it, the two scientists described the distinctive features of the fossils.

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Within Averianov and Efimov’s descriptions were a number of the fossils’ specific quirks. These traits are what had convinced researchers that the bones belonged to a brand new dinosaur. The creature is thought to have lived during the Early Cretaceous period.

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The dinosaur was dubbed Volgatitan. This name derives from the river where it was first discovered. It’s believed that this particular specimen had been buried in the cliffs for some 130 million years before finding its way into the hands of Averianov and his colleagues.

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Weighing in at around 17 tons, Volgatitan was certainly an impressive beast. However, it was far from the largest of the titanosaurs. In fact, some of these creatures are thought to have reached weights of up to 70 tons.

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Discovered in Argentina back in 1989 Argentinosaurus is thought to have reached up to 130 feet in length. Its shoulder height is believed to have hit some 24 feet. And although scientists have only recovered a few bones from the colossal beast, many regard it as the largest animal known to have lived on land.

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However, giant titanosaurs like Argentinosaurus lived many years after Volgatitan walked the earth, during the Late Cretaceous period. And for its time, the new discovery represents quite an impressive specimen. “It is quite large, comparative to the other earliest Cretaceous sauropods,” Averianov claimed.

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Amazingly, Volgatitan isn’t the only new dinosaur discovery to come out of Russia. In fact, as many as a dozen new taxa have recently emerged from the country. Moreover, two of these are among those also identified as sauropods – Sibirotitan astrosacralis and Tengrisaurus starkovi.

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In fact, these latter two creatures are thought to be the first known sauropods to have inhabited Russia. Such an understanding of these creatures has been made possible thanks to increased understanding of anatomy and phylogeny. This latter term refers to the study of how a particular group of living things evolved.

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The first of the two creatures to enter the annals of recorded history was Tengrisaurus starkovi. This had officially been described by Averianov and his colleague, Pavel Skutschas, in May 2017. Again, the herbivore had been identified from a collection of vertebrae fossils, recovered from Gusinoe Lake in the Transbaikal region of Russia.

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Meanwhile, the first remains of Sibirotitan astrosacralis were discovered in 1953 in another cliff face – this time on the banks of the Kiya River in western Siberia. And just like Volgatitan and Tengrisaurus, it was the creature’s giant vertebrae that initially alerted researchers to its presence. Then in the following decade, more bones were uncovered in the region.

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Later, two expeditions in 1994 and 1995 confirmed that the fossils belonged to a type of sauropod. And in 2002 Averianov struck gold. Apparently, he discovered an extensive foot fossil that he identified as belonging to a titanosaur. However, his research was muddled by the possible presence of brachiosaur fossils in the same area.

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Over the years, similar specimens continued to emerge. Eventually, in 2017 Averianov had everything he needed to name the new taxon Sibirotitan astrosacralis – including the foot, a sacrum and a number of teeth and vertebrae. Apparently, this massive beast may have grown to weigh more than 20 tons.

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To researchers, these new sauropod finds have proved invaluable. In the past, comparatively few specimens have been available to study, partly due to the fragile nature of the creatures’ bones. Apparently, their long necks were hollow and delicate, which meant that they were light.

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Once a sauropod died, then, their delicate skeletons were very susceptible to bring crushed and eroded, often leaving little behind. So, in modern times fossils are difficult to come by. So when they are discovered, researchers seize the opportunity to learn more about these fascinating beasts.

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As they have pieced together more information about the sauropods, researchers have discovered some surprising facts about how they spread across our planet. “Previously, it was believed that the evolution of titanosaurs took place mainly in South America, with some taxa moving into North America, Europe and Asia only in the Late Cretaceous,” Avieranov explained in a statement.

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However, recent discoveries have forced experts to reconsider what they know about titanosaur evolution. “The recent description of the Tengrisaurus from the Early Cretaceous of Transbaikal Region and the finding of the Volgatitan indicate that titanosaurs in the Early Cretaceous were distributed much more widely,” the statement continued.

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Apparently, Averianov and Efimov now believe that lognkosaurs – the group of titanosaurs to which Argentinosaurus belongs – spread out around the globe during the Early Cretaceous period. But by the Late Cretaceous, they had apparently died out everywhere, with the exception of South America.

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Moreover, experts believe that crucial stages in titanosaur evolution could have taken place in Asia and Eastern Europe. So that takes it out of just South America, as was once understood. And amazingly, these aren’t the only places on Earth where new sauropods have been rearing their heads in recent years.

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Over in Moab, Utah, researchers have been excavating a vast collection of bones from a quarry outside of the city. Amongst the fossils of previously known dinosaurs, the group discovered some 5,500 bones belonging to a new species. And it’s thought that they come from as many as 18 different specimens.

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The Early Cretaceous creature to which these finds belong has been dubbed Moabosaurus. It’s believed to have been a relative of the titanosaurs that have been found elsewhere. And even though many of the fossils were poorly preserved, they have shone another light on the complicated topic of sauropod evolution.

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Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away in Wyoming, a new species of sauropod dating back to the Late Jurassic period has been discovered. Apparently, Galeamopus pabsti is from the same group of dinosaurs that spawned the Diplodocus and it likely lived at around the same time. In this case, researchers recovered two skulls belonging to the creature – giving them an insight into its anatomy.

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However, one of the Galeamopus skeletons recovered from Wyoming has raised some questions, as well as answered them. Apparently, the fossil displays some features usually associated with a younger specimen. But when researchers took a closer look, they found contradictory evidence that suggested it could have belonged to an adult.

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And over in France, yet another sauropod has recently been named. Although the first Vouivria fossils were discovered back in 1934 it took many decades before the creature received the appropriate recognition. Initially described as a member of the Bothriospondylus genus, it was eventually recognized as a species in its own right in 2017.

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Interestingly, Vouivria was also found to be an early relative of the Brachiosaurus. This was a later sauropod known to inhabit parts of Madagascar, Tanzania and the United States. By studying the creatures that came before it, researchers have been able to learn even more about sauropods and their range.

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For now, however, Averianov is taking a break from sauropods. In fact, he’s expanding his research to learn more about another iconic group of dinosaurs – the stegosaurs. “We are currently working on the dinosaurs collected from the Early Cretaceous site in Yakutia, Eastern Siberia,” the paleontologist explained to Fox News.

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“The fauna is dominated by stegosaurs and possibly we shall describe a new taxon of stegosaur when all specimens will be prepared,” Averianov continued. But will these latest discoveries be as revelatory as his work on Russia’s sauropods? Keen paleontologists will just have to wait to find out.

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