Paradise for fossil hunters

Svalbard, also known as Spitsbergen, is a paradise for fossil hunters. Numerous footprints and tracks have been discovered in recent years. Last autumn, scientists found the first complete skeleton of one of the largest carnivores ever to walk the earth!

12. apr 2007 00:00

Dinosaur, Pliosaurus. ILL: TOR SPONGA/BT, NYSGJERRIGPER 2-07Pliosaurus lived in the sea and was one of the largest carnivores that ever lived. ILL.: TOR SPONGA/BT The first dinosaur tracks were discovered on Svalbard in 1960. The 13 tracks were determined to be about 123 million years old. The find was very special since it showed that there were also 'polar' dinosaurs. People used to think that dinosaurs only lived in hot swampy areas. Even though back then Svalbard was located about where Oslo is located today (at about 60 degrees north), it was still a very cold place 123 million years ago. The dinosaurs as that plodded around on Svalbard had to endure snow and sub-zero temperatures.

Many tracks

In 1976, tracks of another type of dinosaur were found on the west side of Svalbard. In 2002, 'Nysgjerrigper' reported that the Norwegian dinosaur expert Jørn Hurum had found 20 new tracks in the same place as in 1960. The scientists also found fossilised plants that probably provided food for the dinosaurs. The footprints were roughly 70 centimetres long, leading scientists to believe the dinosaurs must have been between 7 and 9 metres tall.

New dinosaur tracks

The latest finds were made in 2006, when new dinosaur tracks were discovered in the south-western part of Svalbard. They were very similar to the ones found Dinosaurforskere: Jørn Hurum og Patrick Druckenmiller. FOTO: NATURHISTORISK MUSEUM, UIO, NYSGJERRIGPER 2-07Dinosaur experts Jørn Hurum and Patrick Druckenmiller mapping skeletons. PHOTO: NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, UNIVERSITY OF OSLO in 1960 and 2002. The footprints are nearly 60 centimetres long, and clearly show three powerful toes firmly planted on the ground. However, since no one has found any skeletons or bones as yet, we don't know how these dinosaurs looked.

The quest continues

What has, however, been found are vestiges of a giant carnivore! This is actually one of the largest carnivores that has ever lived. Called pliosaurus, it lived in the sea. This lizard was as big as a bus, and had teeth the size of cucumbers! Scientists have found pliosaurus skeletons at a few other sites in the world, but the find on Svalbard is special. It is, in fact, the first complete skeleton ever found of a pliosaurus.

Translated by Linda Sivesind

*Published in 'Nysgjerrigper' no. 2/07*