A Plateosaurus in our Dinosaur Gallery in 2017



One of our technicians preparing a foot of the Plateosaurus. (Photo: Thierry Hubin, RBINS)
A Plateosaurus in our Dinosaur Gallery in 2017
post by
Reinout Verbeke

Our Institute has welcomed a new dinosaur: a Plateosaurus. It measures about 6.5 metres in length and has lived 210 million years ago. Plateosaurus is one of the first great dinosaurs and one of the very first “long necks”.  Right now the fossils are being prepared in our lab and will be presented in our Dinosaur Gallery in 2017. It will then be, along with our famous Iguanodons of Bernissart, the only authentic and almost complete skeleton to be exposed permanently in Belgium. In the following year our colleagues will get rid of the sediments gangue from the 200 fossilized bones.

Plateosaurs measured about 5 to 10 meters in length (our skeleton is about 6.5 metres), this makes them one of the biggest dinosaurs to have lived in the Triassic period, 252 to 201 million years ago. It was also one of the first “long necks”. This herbivore dinosaur belonged to the family of the prosauropods, the precursors of sauropods such as Diplodocus.

Plateosaurus had a long tail and a fairly elongated neck. Its size allowed it to feed itself from a large variety of plants, but it is very likely that it ate anything it would come across. The biped dinosaur lived in herds and could easily defend itself thanks to the strong claws on its front feet.

A Swiss dinosaur

Our Plateosaurus was excavated in a quarry in Frick (Switzerland). So far this dinosaur has only been found in Europe (in France, Germany and Switzerland). The quarry in Frick is an exceptional dinosaur bonebed from the Late Triassic (about 210 million years old). In the last 40 years, over 30 virtually complete Plateosaur skeletons have been found and mounted. If the first founds were mainly accidental , several excavations have been planned and performed since 1976. The rich material that was discovered recently allows us to better understand the anatomy and mode of life of the Plateosaurus. Along with the 300 meter deep quarry in Bernissart (where the Iguanodons of our Museum were discovered), Frick is one of the richest spots when it comes to dinosaur skeletons in Europe. These dinosaurs probably mired themselves in the marshy areas that covered this region at the end of the Triassic period.

The Sauriermuseum in Frick has offered our Institute a permanent loan of a complete Plateosaurus skeleton. The unprepared fossils are piling up in their facility and it is impossible for them to prepare them all. Our Institute has received support from the Brussels-Capital Region for the preparation of the skeleton.

More than one year in the palaeontology lab

Before the fossil can become part of a scientific study or be presented to the public in the museum it needs to withstand a full grooming. Arriving in the laboratory the blocs of plaster are cut open with a saw and disc grinder. The bones are patiently removed from the sediments, in which they have been contained for millions of years, using small and pneumatic tools, similar to the tools a dentist uses. They are then consolidated using special resins and the isolated pieces are restuck. Every bone can then be individually taken out of the plaster. Finally, in order to present the dinosaur to the public in the most “natural” way, to show the dinosaur in a living posture, our team will build a discrete metal frame, on which the bones will be placed one by one.

This long and thorough work should keep our colleagues in the fossil prep lab busy for more than a year. This may seem long but just for one Plateosaurus foot this process could take up to a month.

The Plateosaurus will join the stars of the Dinosaur Gallery in 2017. It will then be, along with our Iguanodons of Bernissart, the only other almost complete and authentic dinosaur skeleton on view permanently in Belgium.

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