About 110 million years ago, in what is now Brazil, a pint-sized dinosaur cut a flaming figure with a display of mammalian fur-like filaments and narrow structures bladel-shaped erupting from his shoulders. Now it’s in the spotlight for another reason: questions about how it fell into the hands of paleontologists who described it last week and which was added to the collection of a southern museum. western Germany.
Some researchers say the specimen may have been illegally exported. The authors say they had permission to take the fossil out of Brazil as part of a shipment of fossils. But according to Brazilian law, “there is no legal export of fossils. Period ”, only loans, explains Alexander Kellner, paleontologist and director of the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
The fossil was found in northeastern Brazil, possibly by a worker in one of the region’s many limestone quarries. The researchers who prepared and described the specimen named it Ubirajara jubatus. Ubirajara Means “lord of the spear” in Tupi, one of the indigenous languages spoken in the region. Jubatus is Latin for “mane”. It is the first dinosaur in the southern hemisphere with structures that could be related to the first feathers, although the filaments are not branched like the feathers of modern birds. The creature evidently wore an impressive mane on its neck and its fur covering was “like a teddy bear” – albeit with rather fierce claws, says Eberhard Frey, a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe who helped lead the new fossil study.
The researchers also found rigid, lamella-like structures up to six inches long that extend from the animal’s shoulders. They were probably ornamental, possibly used in a mating display, Frey and his colleagues wrote in Cretaceous research December 13. The lamella-shaped structures, which don’t appear to be mineralized like bone, are “the strange and wonderful thing that needs to be understood,” says Michael Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol who was not involved in the works. The creature will help scientists better understand how feather-like structures evolved, he says.
Frey and co-author David Martill, a paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth, say the specimen was exported in 1995 with all necessary permits, based on a 1942 law governing the collection of fossils. The editor-in-chief of Cretaceous researchPaleontologist Eduardo Koutsoukos says the authors have “documentary evidence” for their claim that they received permission from a Brazilian official to export the fossil. However, Frey acknowledges that the permits were for unspecified samples, so, “It happened legally, but we can’t prove it correctly.”
Other researchers say that since at least 1990 Brazilian regulations have prohibited the sale or permanent export of fossils from the country. Taissa Rodrigues Marques da Silva, a paleontologist at the Federal University of Espírito Santo, Goiabeiras, says that although laws covering fossils in Brazil are complex and have not always been enforced, they clearly prohibit permanent export. “It would be great if they could provide more detailed data” on export permits, she said.
Rodrigues, Kellner and others wondered why the researchers had waited so long to publish the specimen, wondering if it had to do with the fossil’s murky story. Frey says it was initially unclear whether the fossil was anything special, and that it took many years of work to recognize the importance of the specimen.
But Kellner is not convinced. “It’s hard to believe that a paleontologist would not have recognized the importance of this specimen and published it sooner,” he says.
Martill, who has worked with other controversial fossils from Brazil, publicly stated that purchasing fossils may secure them for scientific study. But many paleontologists say the practice fuels a collector’s market that can make specimens inaccessible to researchers. Rodrigues says that while fossils were commonly purchased in northeastern Brazil in the past, the situation has improved. She says the local paleontological community has formed relationships with the miners who often find fossils. “The miners know the fossils are important and they bring them to the museum” instead of trying to sell them, she says.
“Fossils have been sold in Brazil in the past,” Kellner says. “But here we have a vibrant paleontological community that works very hard to keep fossils like this dinosaur in the country. Everyone is welcome to study them, post to them, and then return them. “
Frey said ScienceInsider, he wants to contact his Brazilian colleagues, including Kellner, to find a solution. He could imagine a deal, he said, that would allow the Karlsruhe museum to exhibit the specimen for a few years before sending it back to Brazil. “We are trying to find a way to solve this problem in a fair and logical way.”