March 24, 2012
Saturday morning, we made a brief stop at the Museo Carlos Amhegino in Cipolletti, only 10 minutes from Neuquen City. We stopped here to see the original fossil skeleton of Buitreraptor, a relative of Velociraptor. You see, not all of the dinosaurs in the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibition are giants. In fact the vast majority of dinosaurs from that period were smaller than an elephant. Buitreraptor is the smallest dinosaur in the Exhibition, and is representative of a strange, long-faced group of ‘raptor’ dinosaurs known only from Gondwana, or the southern hemisphere. Buitreraptor and other Velociraptor-type dinosaurs are very close relatives of the earliest birds. The skeleton of Buitreraptor is very bird-like, and it was almost certainly covered in feathers in life.
After lunch, we headed to Plaza Huincul to meet with renowned paleontologist Dr. Rodolfo Coria. We met him at the Museo Carmen Funes, the largest museum in Neuquen Province, Patagonia. Inside the museum are mounted two of the largest dinosaurs ever found, which were revealed to the world by Dr. Coria and his colleagues. The titanosaurian sauropod Argentinosaurus is the largest herbivore currently known. Unfortunately, it is known from only a handful of massive bones, but enough to build a hypothetical reconstruction of the animal at full scale.
In the same exhibit hall, the skeleton of the giant carnivore Giganotosaurus looks small in comparison, but it rivaled T. rex in size. Visitors to the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibition will see a dramatic face-off between these two mega-predators, and get to decide for themselves which is bigger while learning about the differences between northern and southern dinosaur ecosystems at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.
After a tour of the museum, Dr. Coria took us into the field near Plaza Huincul to an area of badlands that has produced a number of important dinosaur finds. He explained to us how Giganotosaurus was discovered, the process of field paleontology, and the importance of Giganotosaurus for understanding the evolution and ecology of the giant southern meat-eating dinosaurs.
So far it’s been a great trip! Stay tuned for more.