for National Geographic News
Scientists from Cuba and Argentina have uncovered the first positively identified dinosaur remains ever found in Cuba.
The roughly 150-million-year-old vertebra of a small, coastal-dwelling Saurischian dinosaur was unearthed in the Sierra de los Organos Mountains in western Cuba.
Earlier discoveries had been made, but none of the finds were able to withstand scientific scrutiny.
In 1949, Alfredo de la Torre y Callejas found a 45-centimeter (18 inch) bone in Vinales and identified it as that of a Diplodocus or Brontosaurus. The bone was lost, however, and the very general description and single photograph that have survived leave doubt about its true origins.
Despite the lack of hard evidence, scientists remained convinced that dinosaur fossils could be found in what is now Cuba.
"I was suspicious that there must be dinosaur remains in western Cuba, but had been unable to prove it," said Manuel Iturralde-Vinent, a paleontologist at Cuba's Museo Nacional de Historia Natural. "Now we are confident that there are fossil remains of dinosaurs." Until more fossilized remains are found it isn't possible to identify what kind of dinosaur the vertebra belonged to, but the discovery of any land-dwelling dinosaur in Cuba is significant, said Zulma Gasparini, a paleontologist at Argentina's Museo de La Plata. Gasparini and Iturralde-Vinent are the lead scientists on the project.
"They were undoubtedly land animals, and consequently they provide some evidence to confirm or refute hypotheses on land-seas distribution in the Caribbean," he said. "They could also add crucial knowledge of the evolution and geographic distribution of dinosaurs, and other land groups, between both Americas."
On Land and in Sea
"The occurrence of Jurassic land and coastal sediments in western Cuba is well-known," said Iturralde-Vinent. "In these sediments I have been looking for dinosaurs for many years, and in the end the search was successful as we located a small bone. This find opens great possibilities for future research."
The dinosaur bone was found in layers of earth from the Late Jurassic Jagua Formation in what had once been coastal sediments.
"The deposits where the bones are found accumulated 154 to 146 million years ago in shallow marine waters very close to the shore, allowing representatives of land and marine elements be found in the same beds," said Iturralde-Vinent.
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