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NATURE: Raising The Dinosaur Giant

Airs Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV + Sunday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. on KPBS 2

Ben Garrod, Sir David Attenborough, and Dr. Diego Pol in front of a new giant...

Credit: Courtesy of © Robin Cox

Above: Ben Garrod, Sir David Attenborough, and Dr. Diego Pol in front of a new giant titanosaur find - a reconstructed skeleton, Trelew, Argentina, Oct. 2015.

A few years ago in the Argentinean desert, a shepherd was searching for one of his lost sheep when he spotted the tip of a gigantic fossil bone sticking out of a rock.

When the news reached paleontologists at the MEF Museum in Trelew, Argentina, they set up camp at the discovery site to examine it and look for more bones.

By the end of the dig, they had uncovered more than 200 other huge bones. As the program reveals, these fossils came from seven dinosaurs, all belonging to a new species of giant plant-eating titanosaur whose name will be announced soon.

“Raising The Dinosaur Giant” premiered in 2016 on PBS.

NATURE: Raising The Dinosaur Giant: Preview

Have scientists discovered the biggest animal to have ever walked the planet? Deep in a South American desert, a giant is being awakened after 101 million years of sleep. Paleontologists have discovered a giant femur – the largest dinosaur bone that has ever been unearthed. Sir David Attenborough will guide us through the remarkable journey of waking the giant as it happens.

“When we learned that early signs at the dig site suggested this new species was the largest land animal ever known and experts were discovering such valuable information about the life of such giants millions of years ago, we were keenly interested,” says Fred Kaufman, executive producer of NATURE.

Sir David Attenborough, the film’s host and narrator, takes us through the twists and turns of the forensic investigation to find out more about this new animal.

Did This Thighbone Belong to the World's Largest Dinosaur?

Sauropods were long-necked, plant-eating dinosaurs that started off relatively small. However, after 20 million years of evolution, they grew to enormous proportions. Naturalist David Attenborough compares the thighbones of early sauropods to the largest ever found.

He talks to paleontologists studying the fossils, along with comparative anatomy experts, and with the help of 3D scanning, CGI visuals and animation, looks at what the bones reveal about the lives of these dinosaurs.

He’s on location at the dig site and in the MEF Museum labs in Trelew, and present when a life-size skeleton of the dinosaur, built by a Canadian and Argentinean team of model makers, is completed.

As Attenborough explains, dinosaurs roamed what is now the rocky desert of Patagonia during the Cretaceous Period, around 145 to 66 million years ago.

The largest of these were plant-eaters known as titanosaurs. Among the fossils unearthed during the two-year excavation were bones from the giant’s front and back legs, which are vital in determining its body mass or weight, and those from its spine, which helped establish its identity.

Photo credit: Courtesy of © William Hicklin

Dig site of a new giant titanosaur find at La Fletcha Farm. Dig team from the Paleontology Museum in Trelew, Chubut Province, Argentina. Over 200 fossil bones found. April 2015.

Dr. Diego Pol, chief paleontologist on the project, was pleased that the femur (or thigh bone), found by the shepherd, was well-preserved because it was of great value to the scientific study. At 2.6 yards in length, it also turned out to be the largest dinosaur bone ever discovered.

Photo credit: Courtesy of © William Hicklin

Dr. Jose Luis Carballido (right) and Dr. Diego Pol (left) measure the femur bone of a new giant titanosaur find at the dig site on La Fletcha Farm near Trelew, Chubut Province, Argentina, April 2015.

To protect the fossils, weighing more than half a ton or so, on their journey to the museum lab, the team had to apply plaster casts on each limb. A road was even built to transport them.

According to Attenborough, scientists dated these fossils to precisely 101.6 million years old by examining the ash deposits in the rock layers surrounding them. He shares the team’s discoveries gleaned from meticulous forensic work and makes comparisons to the biology of living creatures.

Photo credit: Courtesy of © Robin Cox

Sir David Attenborough with a new giant titanosaur find - a thigh bone (femur) fossil, Paleontology Museum, Trelew, Argentina Feb. 2015.

Among some early findings are that the giants are thought to have eaten plants such as fern, cycads and conifers without chewing them; it’s estimated that its heart weighed just over 500 pounds to pump blood around its massive body and is thought to have had four chambers; and this largest titanosaur measured 121 feet from head to tail and weighed just over 77 tons.

The 500-Pound Dinosaur Heart

Titanosaurs were the world's largest dinosaurs, weighing as much as 100 tons by some estimates. In order to push blood around such massive bodies, they needed an enormous heart. A yet-to-be named species, found in the deserts of Argentina, may have had a heart that weighed over 500 pounds and was six feet around.

The film also follows Attenborough as he visits the largest known dinosaur nesting ground 500 miles north of the Patagonian dig site, where the remains of their eggshells can be seen scattered for miles.

He discloses that hundreds of buried titanosaur eggs, originally laid on an old river plain, have also been found intact. The unhatched ones were preserved in mud when the river flooded, providing clues to what a baby titanosaur may have looked like.

“Like so many people, young and old, I am fascinated by dinosaurs,” says Attenborough. The subsequent confirmation from Dr. Pol that they believe they had discovered the largest dinosaur ever known was like icing on the cake. But the research continues as the fossils contain many secrets yet to be revealed."

Giant Dinosaur Skeleton Assembled in 60 Seconds

Have scientists discovered the biggest animal to have ever walked the planet? Deep in a South American desert, a giant is being awakened after 101 million years of sleep. Watch scientists, engineers and artists reconstruct its entire skeleton in a timelapse lasting only 60 seconds.

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CREDITS:

NATURE is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. For NATURE, Fred Kaufman is executive producer. “Raising The Dinosaur Giant” is a BBC Earth with PBS and THIRTEEN Productions LLC. The Executive Producers for the BBC are Mike Gunton and Miles Barton, and the Producer/Director is Charlotte Scott, from the BBC’s Natural History Unit.

Photo credit: Courtesy of © Robin Cox

A new giant titanosaur find - a whole reconstructed skeleton, Paleontology Museum, Trelew, Argentina Feb. 2015.

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