It’s hard to image that a plant-eating dinosaur once lived and thrived in the world’s driest desert but that’s exactly what happened many millions of years ago. Scientists discovered a new species of dinosaur that lived in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
An Arackar licanantay (meaning “Atacama bones” in the Kunza language) was found by a team of experts that was led by Chilean geologist Carlos Arévalo. The remains – which included portions of a humerus, femur, and ischium, as well as vertebral elements from its back and neck – were unearthed 75 kilometers south of Copiapó.
While it was found in the 1990s, researchers have spent the last several years analyzing the remains. Referred to as a so-called titanosaur (a specific group of sauropods), this never-before-seen species had a small head, long neck, an oddly flat back, and a long tail.
While dinosaur remains have previously been found in Brazil and Argentina, the fact that a titanosaur was found to the west of South America’s Andes Mountains is quite rare. Another interesting fact is that the Arackar licanantay was much smaller than other titanosaurs. For example, the Argentinosaurus (cleverly named as it was found in Argentina) was over four times longer than the Arackar which measured in at approximately 6.3 meters in length (20.7 feet).
The Arackar licanantay lived between 80 million and 66 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. While it was alive, it was surrounded by palm trees, ferns, and flowering plants – hard to imagine since the Atacama Desert is now full of sand and rocks. In fact, the last time it rained in the arid core of the desert was on June 7, 2017. According to climate models, rain events like the one that happened in 2017 could possibly happen every 100 years although experts couldn’t find any proof that it rained in that area 500 years prior to that date.
The Arackar remains will be put on display at Chile’s Museum of Natural History sometime in the future. David Rubilar, who is the head of the museum’s palaeontology area, described the significance of the remains, “This represents a relevant milestone for the Chilean palaeontological heritage.” A picture of what the Arackar licanantay would have looked like can be seen here.
The research was published in the journal Cretaceous Research where it can be read in full.