Access to fossils needs to be democratized, says the discoverer of the greatest Brazilian dinosaur – 02/06/2021 – Science

A strange chain of coincidences seems to have predestined the geologist Luiz Carlos Borges Ribeiro (59) to become a dinosaur hunter.

He was not only born in Uberaba (MG), today one of the most important fossil deposits of these extinct monsters in the country, but he also has a family relationship with the animals, so to speak: It was precisely at his great-grandfather’s farm that some of the first dinosaurs from Brazil were found in the 1940s.

However, if there was a predestination in history, it came late and by winding roads. “I discovered all of this well. I thought I was going to be a petroleum and mining geologist, I never thought I’d deal with dinosaurs, ”he says.

Anyway, the odds were good. In 2021, Ribeiro will conclude three decades at the helm of the Llewellyn Ivor Price paleontological research center, now affiliated with UFTM (Federal University of Triângulo Mineiro).

During this time, he and his colleagues took from the soil of Uberaba a large number of remains from the time of the dinosaurs, including the largest land animal to have ever lived on Brazilian territory – a neck eater up to 27 m long.

The scientific name of the extraordinary creature actually honors both Ribeiro’s hometown and the researcher himself – this is the Uberabatitan Ribeiroi, a member of the titanosaur group that includes the largest dinosaurs in the world. The center’s team continues to excavate the Mineiro Triangle – the scientist promises to describe “fantastic fossils” of carnivorous dinosaurs in the area soon – but Ribeiro’s plans are broader.

Its main goal is to achieve international recognition for a project that unites all the important scientific, ecological, tourist and cultural attractions of Uberaba in a triangle whose cornerstones, besides the dinosaurs, are the legends of zebu cattle and spiritualism in Brazil.

Interestingly, these cornerstones can also be found in the family history of the geologist and paleontologist. In 1889, when Dom Pedro 2º was still ruling Brazil, the researcher’s great-grandfather, Antônio Borges de Araújo, traveled to the region of the imperial capital Rio de Janeiro to possess a group of five animals that were considered exotic at the time: Cattle of Indian origin.

“Back then, the zebu was a zoo ox,” explains Ribeiro. His ancestor would have bought the animals from the emperor’s personal doctor. By the time the zebus train finally got to Uberaba, it was November 15, and the republic had just been proclaimed.

In the following generations, the rancher family continued to invest in these strange oxen in India, which adapted admirably well to the climate and terrain of the inland areas.

José Caetano Borges, the geologist’s great-grandfather, and his brother-in-law held the world’s first zebus exhibition with 1,246 animals in 1906 in Fazenda Cassu, his estate. “So that you have an idea today, ExpoZebu does not collect more than 1,800 animals,” says Ribeiro, who is still a member of the board of directors of ABCZ (Brazilian Association of Zebu Breeders), the world’s largest cattle breeding institution.

The old farmer even made friends with an Indian sultan in order to import animals directly from Asia. He promoted the creation of his own breed of zebu, the Induberaba (better known as Indubrasil), which is the result of crossbreeding between animals of the Gir, Guzera, and Nelore breeds. And it was precisely the rectification of a very steep section of the railway that ran through Fazenda Cassu that drew the first fossils found in the region.

News of the discovery reached the ears of a son of American missionaries named Lllewellyn Ivor Price (1905-1980), a former Harvard student who was a sort of official dinosaur hunter at DNPM (National Department of Mineral Production) in the end of the Vargas dictatorship .

Price arrived at the farm to do some research and came across a dinosaur egg used as bocce ball by railroad workers.

The egg lost all of its shell after being hit so badly in the game, but Price still managed to study the fossil and publish a comparison between it and similar eggs from Provence (southern France) in 1951. This finding is considered to be the first dinosaur egg in South America and belonged to a titanosaur.

Price later went to the outskirts of Peirópolis (rural district 25 km west of Uberaba), where he carried out systematic excavations and made a number of new finds. The paleontological pioneer would be honored on behalf of the research center run by Ribeiro in Peirópolis – and he would likely be delighted to learn that two more dinosaur eggs from the region, this time intact, were presented to researchers at the institution by DNPM (who made them from an anonymous donor) in 2015.

Despite having vaguely heard of the discovery of dinosaur remains in the area as a teenager, Ribeiro neither met Price nor recognized the family relationship with the fossils.

With no interest in traditional university careers such as law, medicine or engineering, he decided on geology after consulting “Tio Zé” – the journalist José Hamilton Ribeiro, who was then known for his coverage of the Vietnam War and always visited Uberaba. and read the entry about the area in an encyclopedia.

After graduating from UFMG in 1985, the geologist spent several years exploring for oil in the northeast and gold in the Mantiqueira Mountains. “It didn’t work out very well, and I was thinking of returning to Uberaba as a rancher,” he says. “But when I got here the idea of ​​starting a dinosaur museum was boiling and I was invited to become director because I’m a geologist.”

He speaks modestly of his scientific contribution. “I think my greatest achievement was to have collected a lot of material and democratically made it available to paleontologists who could describe the fossils,” he muses. “In vertebrate paleontology, it is common to be very jealous and restrict access to fossils. There is no such thing here. “

The main goal, however, is to recognize the Uberaba – Terra de Gigantes Geopark, for which he has been working since his doctorate at the UFRJ (completed in 2014), by Unesco (cultural organ of the United Nations).

The Geoparks recognized by UNESCO must combine various elements, e.g. B. the preservation of geological heritage, the assessment of the historical and cultural heritage of each region and the support of sustainable development through tourism. In addition to the wealth of dinosaurs and zebus, the region’s connection with the pioneers of spiritualism is another advantage that is recognized.

Faith was brought to the region in the 19th century by the Spanish immigrant Frederico Peiró, diffuser of the works of the French Allan Kardec (hence the name Peirópolis), and the famous medium Chico Xavier, who settled in Uberaba in the late 1950s. stay there until his death in 2002.

To ensure the geopark’s recognition, Ribeiro and his colleagues at UFTM have worked with authorities to ensure that infrastructure works in the city do not harm the paleontological heritage.

And two places in Uberaba already have artistic replicas of their extinct stars. “The city is filling up with dinosaurs and people are realizing how important it is to appreciate this heritage,” says the researcher. We are a family business.

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