Science

The National Museum is rescuing the skeleton of a new 80 million year old dinosaur

More than two years after the fire that destroyed part of the National Museum, a new discovery emerges. These are the vertebrae of a large dinosaur, a species that is probably still unknown and around 80 million years old.

It is the second time the fossil has been saved. The first was between 2003 and 2006 on a “Hercules” expedition by paleontologists from the facility in Mato Grosso, during which two tons of material were removed after hours of gravel road, off-road vehicles and pouring rain.

The last one was in February, in a very thorough job, this time with a different type of funeral. The skeleton was on the ground floor and was crushed by the top two floors of the bicentennial palace in Rio de Janeiro in the 2018 tragedy. Even so, it came out almost intact with little change caused by the heat.

“It was a moment of great emotion, something extraordinary,” said paleontologist Luciana Carvalho, one of the rescue center’s coordinators, at a press conference this Tuesday (6). “We didn’t expect to find it, but to our surprise the blocks showed and the bones were practically intact.”

The hypothesis is that the funeral protected the vertebrae from direct contact with fire. The researchers also believe that the mineral replacement process that the bones went through during fossilization helped the material withstand fire and collapse.

It is not yet clear what the fossil represents. The two blocks, the bones of which were removed from the rubble, were examined before the fire and will soon return to analysis, “even more so after they have gained a second life,” says Carvalho.

It is likely that this is a new breed of titanosaurid, the dinosaur known for reaching the top of trees with a long neck. The paleontologist and director of the museum, Alexander Kellner, believes that it will be possible to describe it by next year.

The “dinosaur of Mato Grosso” as it was called joins other rescue operations carried out since the fire, such as the skull of Luzia – the oldest human skeleton in America that revolutionized theories about the occupation of the continent – and the Amulets that they were in a 3,000 year old Egyptian mummy that had never been seen before.

So far, items from 14 of the 25 collections in the palace have been found, including anthropology, botany, geology and paleontology, invertebrates and vertebrates. For example, the areas of entomology (insects) as well as memory and archive have been almost completely lost.

The team, which originally consisted of 76 professionals to dig through the rubble and search for the lost pieces, now has 30 people responsible for completing the last three unexcavated rooms. Only then do they take stock of all the items found and begin restoring the items.

The rescue of the collection and the reconstruction of the museum have been delayed by obstacles in the tendering process, in raising funds and also by the new coronavirus pandemic. The idea was to complete the search in April 2020, but the researchers had to stop work several times because of the risk of contamination.

While the excavations were stopped, they made sporadic visits to review the material, wrote the logs used in the inventory and reported on all pre-pandemic work in the published book “500 Days of Rescue: Memory, Courage and Image” now and for download on the museum’s website.

The rescued items, which are still packed in containers outside the palace, will soon be moved to a room with controlled humidity and temperature on the new campus, which is being built on a site near the MaracanĂ£ Stadium (North Rio).

It will house the administration (the only building that is finished), the classrooms and the laboratories of the researchers who lost their jobs as a result of the tragedy. The campus should open this year, but the new forecast is for the first half of next year.

However, the full reconstruction of the palace is still a long way off and is estimated for 2025. The tender is expected to complete and work to begin by the end of June, with part of the facade and gardens inaugurated by September 2022, when Brazil celebrates bicentenary of its independence.

When asked, the Vice Rector of the UFRJ (in charge of the museum) said that the university opposed the articulation of a monarchist wing of the Jair Bolsonaro government that wants to turn the palace into a tourist center dedicated to the imperial family, displacing the scientific collection.

“We understand that we have an academic autonomy for this, which is constitutionally guaranteed. We will rebuild under the planned conditions,” he said. “Dom Pedro 2º is in his grave with an idea like this,” added Kellner, director of the museum.

The facility still does not have the necessary funds for the restoration. So far, around 65% of the total planned R $ 380 million has been raised or secured. The budget includes the works of the palace, the renovation of the central library, the construction of the new campus and all works of museography.

“One of the most important things is reorganizing our collections, but we have to earn these new collections, and we will only pass on that trust by rebuilding a palace with the best security for people and the collection,” said Kellner.

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