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In 1895, the sister of an eccentric palaeontologist called Franz Baron Nopcsa discovered small dinosaur bones on their family estate in Transylvania. Nopcsa interpreted these as the remains of dwarfed animals that had once lived on an island. Among these finds were a number of bones belonging to a sauropod dinosaur which Nopcsa named Magyarosaurus dacus, after his native country.
A team of scientists led by Koen Stein and Professor Dr. Martin Sander from the University of Bonn, decided to cut up the fossil bones of the dwarfed dinosaur and study their microstructure. "It's astonishing that the microanatomy of these bones has been preserved for us to study after 70 million years," says Stein, who carried out the research as part of his PhD studies. "Bone is a living tissue, and throughout an animal's life it is constantly dissipating and building up again." Humans, for example, have completely resorbed and rebuilt their skeleton by the time they are fully grown. This also occurred in sauropod dinosaurs. "We were able to distinguish these rebuilding features in Magyarosaurus, which prove that the little dinosaur was fully grown," Koen Stein explains.
A dwarf among giants
Over the years, palaeontologists have frequently debated the question of whether or not the Magyarosaurus was a dwarf. Martin Sander, spokesperson of the Research Group on Sauropod Biology funded by Germany's central research funding foundation the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) notes, "An animal the size of a horse may not seem like a dwarf to most people but, in sauropod terms, it's tiny!" When Magyarosaurus was discovered in Transylvania (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), the palaeontologist Nopcsa advanced the idea that Magyarosaurus was an island dwarf, but he could not prove it back then, a
|Contact: Koen Stein|
University of Bonn