The excavation of the Fumanya site in Barcelona reveals the exact movements of dinosaurs

CNA talks to the Catalan paleontologist Bernat Vila about how collaboration with the University of Manchester gave him the power to excavate the pre-historic Fumanya site in Central Catalonia’s. The site was pictured in the National Geographic series ‘Dinosaurs CSI’.

CNA / Pere Gendrau

February 4, 2011 11:36 PM

Fígols (ACN) .- The pre-historic site Fumanya is located in the Berguedà County in Central Catalonia. This week it featured in one of the chapters of the National Geographic TV series ‘Dinosaurs CSI’. The Catalan Institute of Paleontology (ICP) assisted in the making of the chapter called 'Walking like a dinosaur'. The Catalan researcher Bernat Vila appears in the programme and is grateful to the cooperation with the University of Manchester who scanned the whole site of Fumanya when making the TV series in 2009. The production used a scanner method which recreated a three-dimensional map of the terrain based on more than 3,000 dinosaur tracks found in 38,000 square meters.With this information, the TV show was able to recreate the exact footsteps of the young and old titanosaurs even though back then, as the Catalan paleontologist Josep Marmi pointed out, the climate was very different.

Two Catalan researchers, Bernat Vila and Angel Galobart from the Catalan Institute of Paleontology have been working in harmony with the University of Manchester in the UK since 2005 in order to realise a TV programme for the National Geographic that started broadcasting this week. From the University of Manchester, they worked closely with the paleontologist Phillip Manning who led the shooting. They all met for the first time back in 2005 at a conference on the fossil footprints of dinosaurs. In the same year, they agreed together to scan the entire site of Fumanya. To do so, they analyzed the fossils in the traditional way – with ropes. Then they went on to other sites in Spain and Portgual to do the same and according to Vila, they obtained a good record dinosaurs.

When Philip Manning initially decided to make the TV series, the Catalan paleontologist Bernat Vila told him that Fumanya would be an exceptional site. He told CNA how Fumanya is the only area in Europe where such fossils have been found. A whole chapter of the six series documentary on the Discovery Channel is devoted to this site. A TV crew came to Fumanya to explain to viewers how dinosaurs moved in the pre-historic age and how this technology can be applied through a special laser scan.

Four points

The shooting in Fumanya was carried out in the middle of 2009 and it concentrated on four main points of the site. The two Catalan researchers who were highly involved in the process told the CNA conducting research was easier as they were so familiar with the site. “We have been studying here since 2002”, Vila says, “we have been studying all sorts of things like eggs, footprints and plants, and not just here but in the whole area of Alt Bergueda. The footprints in Fumanya date back to 65 million years ago from a group of titanosaurs.

The titanosaur are titanic reptiles, they are extremely large. They have long necks and a tail and they walk on four paws. According to Vila, “the tracks here are very interesting because they trace back to the last ever dinosaurs before extinction”. “The footprints of these titanosaurs are a good example of how these animals moved”, says the Catalan expert. So, it is not surprising that the National Geographic called the chapter of Fumanya, 'Walk like a dinosaur'. Through the fascinating study of these footprints, the researchers were able to make estimates about the size of these animals and also about the speed they could achieve as they walked. They analysed the movement of young and adult specimens.

Major wetlands

Apart from the TV show, another revelation that has recently been published is a study by the Catalan paleontologist Josep Marmi about vegetation in that age. Thanks to fossil fuels in Fumanya, he was able to reconstruct the pre-historic palm tree, the only one in Europe. “Just where we found the footprints, we found traces of palm leaves and tree trunks”, he said. “There is no evidence that they grew in the same environment as there are no fossilized roots but there are definitely some trunks and leaves”. According to the expert, this is because Fumanya was part of a wetland. The origin of the pieces of palm could be more continental.