Cuban Dinosaur: First Confirmed Remains Discovered
for National Geographic News
Scientists from Cuba and Argentina have uncovered the first positively
identified dinosaur remains ever found in Cuba.
The roughly 150-million-year-old vertebra of a small, coastal-dwelling
Saurischian dinosaur was unearthed in the Sierra de los Organos
Mountains in western Cuba.
Earlier discoveries had been made, but none of the finds were able to
withstand scientific scrutiny.
In 1949, Alfredo de la Torre y Callejas found a 45-centimeter (18 inch)
bone in Vi~nales and identified it as that of a Diplodocus or
Brontosaurus. The bone was lost, however, and the very general
description and single photograph that have survived leave doubt about its
Despite the lack of hard evidence, scientists remained convinced that dinosaur
could be found in what is now Cuba.
"I was suspicious that there must be dinosaur remains in western Cuba,
been unable to prove it," said Manuel Iturralde-Vinent, a paleontologist at Cuba's
Museo Nacional de Historia Natural. "Now we are confident that there are fossil
remains of dinosaurs." Until more fossilized remains are found it isn't possible to
identify what kind of dinosaur the vertebra belonged to, but the discovery of any
land-dwelling dinosaur in Cuba is significant, said Zulma Gasparini, a paleontologist
at Argentina's Museo de La Plata. Gasparini and Iturralde-Vinent are the lead
scientists on the project.
"They were undoubtedly land animals, and consequently they provide some
evidence to confirm or refute hypotheses on land-seas distribution in the
Caribbean," he said. "They could also add crucial knowledge of the evolution and
geographic distribution of dinosaurs, and other land groups, between both
On Land and in Sea
"The occurrence of Jurassic land and coastal sediments in western Cuba
well-known," said Iturralde-Vinent. "In these sediments I have been looking for
dinosaurs for many years, and in the end the search was successful as we located a
small bone. This find opens great possibilities for future research."
The dinosaur bone was found in layers of earth from the Late Jurassic Jagua
Formation in what had once been coastal sediments.
"The deposits where the bones are found accumulated 154 to 146 million
in shallow marine waters very close to the shore, allowing representatives of land
and marine elements be found in the same beds," said Iturralde-Vinent.
Abundant remains of terrestrial vegetation such as fern trees, the fossil
remains of at
least two species of pterosaurs—extinct flying reptiles—and marine reptile fossils
were found in the same strata.
Iturralde-Vinent notes that such a mixture of terrestrial and marine animals
unusual in paleontology.
"The only dinosaur known from Antarctica was a fossil remain found in marine
sediments," he explained. "Sometimes the animal dies and a river might carry the
floating body into open waters. The bodies can float while they are in the process of
Expeditions in the last several years have led to the discovery and description
several new taxa of gigantic ancient aquatic reptiles (pliosaurs, plesiosaurs, and
ichthyosaurs), as well as crocodiles, turtles, and flying reptiles (pterosaurs). New
species of turtle, Caribemys oxfordiensis, and plesiosaur, Vinalesaurus caroli, were
recently discovered, as was a pterosaur that had a tail and soared in the prehistoric
skies with a wingspan of nearly 4 meters (13 feet).
The search for Jurassic fossils in Cuba is a joint project of the Museo
Historia Natural of Cuba and the Museo de La Plata in Argentina, and is partially
funded by the National Geographic Society.
Evidence of Ancient Land Distribution
Iturralde-Vinent and Gasparini continue to search the site for more dinosaurs
related fossils, and are in the process of describing several new species of Jurassic
reptiles for scientific publication.
They are also expanding their research to test a theory about the Late
paleogeography of the Americas.
Many scientists speculate that at the end of the Cretaceous period (approximately
80-60 million years ago) there was a land connection between North and South
America across the extinct volcanic islands that now comprise parts of the Greater
Sea levels and the position of the islands have changed significantly since
ancient period. The presence of dinosaur remains on the islands would lend credence
to the theory, and Iturralde-Vinent has been searching rock formations in the
Greater Antilles for dinosaur fossils since 1997.
"As yet, this search has been unsuccessful," he said, "perhaps because
rocks of late
Cretaceous age are strongly weathered and the potential bones are hard to find on
the surface. But I will continue to search."