Nothing fills a hall like a dinosaur.
Especially in the popular imagination which immediately pictures a Tyrannosaurus rex. But there is much more than that to the age of the dinosaurs, and two presentations on the topic drew enthusiastic audiences to the largest venue of the 2019 Sofia Science Festival, held at Sofia Tech Park.
On May 11, Dr Stephen Brusatte of Edinburgh University, author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, gave what may fairly be called the big picture – a tour de force through 150 million years, in an hour – and on May 12, Dr. Latinka Hristova, Ralitsa Konyovska and Vladimir Nikolov of the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia revealed in detail what is known so far of the dinosaur bone fragements found at Trun in Bulgaria’s western Srednogorie area.
The story of the discovery at Trun is still unfolding, and began when a fossilised bone fragment was brought to Sofia University paleontologists in 2012. Eventually, that led to a team investigation at the site, in difficult terrain, in 2015 and again in 2017.
Estimates are that the fragments date back about 84 to 82 million years, and are from titanosaurian sauropods. The finds at the site appear to be fragments and fossils from Mesozoic crocodylomorphs and testudines, from the Late Cretaceous era in what would become Bulgaria.
So far, dinosaur finds in Bulgaria have been rare, in large measure because of the ancient formation of the lands, with tectonic shifts believed to have obliterated remnants. In recent decades, little more than two dozen finds of dinosaur fragments have been made in the country.
Nikolov explained that more could be known once comparisons with finds in Romania and Hungary could be made.
Brusatte’s presentation on Saturday opened with photos from a site in a place not generally linked in the popular imagination with dinosaurs – Poland. The finds there have been prints from Prorotodactylus, a creature believed to have been about the size of a modern house cat and which was a forerunner of later dinosaurs, and were around for about 30 to 40 million years.
Brusatte also dwelt on finds on the Isle of Skye – again, big picture stuff. After a day looking for fragments with his students, they noticed that there was a discernible pattern of car tyre-sized imprints in the rocks at the seashore. Giant sauropod footprints.
After stops in Uzbekistan, China, Portugal and New Mexico, and with notes on how birds are in direct line to dinosaurs, Brusatte revealed the increasing numbers of finds of dinosaur fossils and remnants in many parts of the world. In a lively question-and-answer with his audience at the close of his presentation, he made it clear that he had no problem with amateur fossicking; in fact, he positively encouraged it. A point that put quite the gleam in the eye of the younger members of the audience, of whom there was a significant proportion – a fact that the author noted and applauded.
(Illustrations: Steve Brusatte’s book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, being published in Bulgarian by Ciela)