Contact: Knut van der Wel
The Research Council of Norway
Paradise for fossil hunters
The first dinosaur tracks were discovered on Svalbard in 1960. The 13 tracks were determined to be about 123 million years old. The find was very special since it showed that there were also 'polar' dinosaurs. People used to think that dinosaurs only lived in hot swampy areas. Even though back then Svalbard was located about where Oslo is located today (at about 60 degrees north), it was still a very cold place 123 million years ago. The dinosaurs as that plodded around on Svalbard had to endure snow and sub-zero temperatures.
In 1976, tracks of another type of dinosaur were found on the west side of Svalbard. In 2002, 'Nysgjerrigper' reported that the Norwegian dinosaur expert Jørn Hurum had found 20 new tracks in the same place as in 1960. The scientists also found fossilised plants that probably provided food for the dinosaurs. The footprints were roughly 70 centimetres long, leading scientists to believe the dinosaurs must have been between 7 and 9 metres tall.
New dinosaur tracks
The latest finds were made in 2006, when new dinosaur tracks were discovered in the south-western part of Svalbard. They were very similar to the ones found in 1960 and 2002. The footprints are nearly 60 centimetres long, and clearly show three powerful toes firmly planted on the ground. However, since no one has found any skeletons or bones as yet, we don't know how these dinosaurs looked.
The quest continues
What has, however, been found are vestiges of a giant carnivore! This is actually one of the largest carnivores that has ever lived. Called pliosaurus, it lived in the sea. This lizard was as big as a bus, and had teeth the size of cucumbers! Scientists have found pliosaurus skeletons at a few other sites in the world, but the find on Svalbard is special. It is, in fact, the first complete skeleton ever found of a pliosaurus.