Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

SCIENCE-BOLIVIA: The Year of the Dinosaurs

Alejandro Campos

LA PAZ, Dec 16 1998 (IPS) - Bolivia has been experiencing something of a ‘Jurassic boom’ with the discovery of dinosaur footprints in the limestone rocks of a cement factory near Sucre, the official capital of the country.

International scientists, curious Bolivians and foreign tourists have arrived in the Cal Orcko area 580 kms south of La Paz, to see the dinosaur prints, which were stamped into the earth and became petrified over time.

The prints of at least six different species of prehistoric animals were discovered along a 350-metre stretch embankment three kms long and 70 meters high. In the Cretaceous period, the embankment was the side of a lake that was forced upward by the gradual movement of the earth’s tectonic plates.

The scientists reported that the prints are much larger than any others discovered elsewhere in the world.

The area near Sucre was home to the gigantic plant-eating brontosaurus and hadrosaurus, and the armour-plated dinosaurs of the anquilosaurus family, animals that moved quickly and weighed more than two tonnes.

According to investigators, the Cal Orcko region was for 70 million years a huge freshwater lake where various species of meat- and plant-eating dinosaurs evolved.

Only 60 kms from there, in the region of Quila Quila, scientists recently discovered more footprints of sauropods and the fossilised remains of the jaw of a tetrapod. Experts estimated the age of the bones at 75 to 85 million years old.

Despite the discovery of fossil footprints in other parts of Bolivia, until now palaeontologists have not found any dinosaur remains due to a lack of resources to investigate the countryside.

“I cannot imagine that in such a big area with dinosaur footprints, they did not find any remains. This is due solely to the fact that there hasn’t been enough research, because the remains exist and only have to be found,” said Bolivian paleontologist Bernardino Mamani, who studies reptile prints.

Beyond its tourist value, researchers see the discovery of footprints and possible fossil remains of dinosaurs in Bolivia as a scientific challenge and as paving the way for research on prehistoric animals that lived in the Americas.

Bolivian palaeontologist David Queremba indicated that the recently discovered fossils and prints have a fundamental value to the study of natural science in the country and the world, since many of the tracks correspond to animals neither known nor catalogued until now.

The researchers also noted the existence of various palaeontological “sanctuaries” in Bolivian territory.

The most important is the Toro Toro National Park, in the department of Potosi, where besides dinosaur prints, there is also a graveyard of gigantic turtles dating back to the Cretaceous period, as well as the remains of crocodiles and fish, and the teeth of prehistoric mammals.

And in Lake Titicaca – shared by Bolivia and Peru – the remains of Placoderm fish were found. These are considered the oldest and biggest fish of the continent, and were capable of devouring sharks, according to the paleontologists. (FIN/IPS/ac/ag/sc/ks/kb/98)

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