Question: The largest giants in the world once roamed Patagonia—what were they?
Answer: Titanosaurs--the largest dinosaurs ever discovered
When explorers first reached Patagonia in 1519, they wove elaborate tales of spotting 10-foot-tall humans, and returned to their homelands claiming they discovered giants. Their exaggeration of finding giants is even where the name Patagonia comes from, which means “land of the tall feet”. This myth was eventually put to rest, but Patagonia is actually home to another type of giant beneath its terrain—dinosaurs.
Patagonia is a natural treasure trove of dinosaur fossils and bones. This year, 98-million-year-old dinosaur bones were uncovered which scientists are saying may be the largest animal to have ever walked the earth.
The bones, discovered in the northwest province of Patagonia, suggest that the dinosaur was most likely a titanosaur—and possibly the largest one ever on record given its measurements. Characterized by its large size, long neck and tail, and four-legged stance, the creature most likely lived from the late Jurassic Period (163.5 to 145 million years ago) to the end of the Cretaceous Period (145 to 66 million years ago). It measures up to a staggering 122 feet long and may have weighed up to 110 tons—more than 12 times the size of an African elephant.
Titanosaur fossils have been found on all continents except Antarctica, however, the biggest varieties have all been discovered in Patagonia. Patagonia is one of the greatest paleontological centers in the world, with both dinosaurs and sea species unearthed. The titanosaur is not the only colossal creature found here. The skull of a large meat-eating dinosaur was also discovered here. This fearsome predator is known as Llukalkan or the “one who causes fear” in the local Mapuche language.
So what makes Patagonia a reservoir of fossils? Many of the fossils come from the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs reached their largest sizes before extinction. Because of natural uplift and erosion, sediment from this period is rising to the surface, making them easier to spot and excavate.
The excavation of the titanosaur is still ongoing as the team works to remove the precious bones from the ground. Its discovery goes to show that you never know what pieces from the past may lie beneath your feet.
A Few More Things to Know About Patagonia:
- There are six national parks: There are six national parks in Argentina and Chile: Torres del Paine (Chile), Los Glaciares (Argentina), Laguna San Rafael (Chile), Nahuel Huapi (Argentina), Tierra del Fuego (Argentina) and Alberto de Agostini (Chile).
- It’s a desert: It may come as a surprise but Patagonia is a desert. In fact, it’s the largest desert in the Americas and the eighth largest in the world covering 260,000 square miles.
- There are almost as many penguins as people in Patagonia: There are an estimated 1.7 million Magellanic penguins with about 2 million people. The largest colonies of Magellanic penguins in the world can be found here.
- It’s also home to wild horses: One of the last and largest wild horse herds can be found in the mountains around Cape Horn in Chilean Patagonia. The horses have not had any human contact for more than a century.
- Humans have lived here for 10,000 years: Humans have called Patagonia home since as long as 10,000 years ago. The first known inhabitants were a collection of tribes known as the Tehuelche who lived as nomads. They are known for the famous cave paintings which date to 9,500 years ago.
- It’s still moving: The Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares National Park contains the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world and it continues to grow. Each day, the glacier expands another six feet.
- It has a large Welsh population: In the 1800s, dreaming of a better life, 150 Welsh people sailed from Liverpool to Argentina. Their settlement flourished and over time a new dialect—Patagonian Welsh—was formed. Today, the dialect is spoken by about 5,000 people in the region.
Explore the unspoiled landscapes of Patagonia which hold millions of years of history during The Wilderness Beyond: Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego & the Chilean Fjords.