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Ampelosaurus atacis

The following item appeared in the August 18 issue of _Science_ (in "Random
Samples," edited by Constance Holden, p. 927):


Paleontologists excavating a site among vineyards in southern France last
month announced a rare find: an almost complete skeleton of a hitherto
unknown Cretaceous-era dinosaur equipped with unusual bony plates. The
creature, estimated to be 70 million to 75 million years old, is a member of
a midsized species of the plant-eating sauropods.

"It is about 15 meters long, walked on four legs, and has the long neck and
tail typical of sauropods," says Jean Le Loeuff of the Musee des Dinosaures
at Esperaza, France, one of a team excavating the site, a former river bed in
the Aude Valley. "But the most unusual feature is the bony dermal plates."
The new species belongs to the family of sauropods called titanosaurs, and
although other species with bony plates have been found in the southern
hemisphere, this is the first to have been found in the north. The
researchers, who have a paper in press at _Comptes Rendus de l'Academie des
Sciences_, have christened it _Ampelosaurus atacis_--dinosaur of the

The French team is now puzzling out how the plates were arranged and what
purpose they served. Although some carry spurs up to 20 centimeters long, "we
don't think they were for protection from predators because of the large size
of these dinosaurs," Le Loeuff says. They may have just lent support to the
vertebral column, say the researchers.

Scientists hope _Ampelosaurus_ will help build a better global picture of the
distribution and diversity of titanosaura [sic] and their relation to other
sauropods. "Sauropod evolution has only been considered from the American
point of view so far," says Le Loeuff. Angela Milner of the Natural History
Museum in London observes that "the completeness of the remains could... help
tie together some of the other European dinosaur fragments," making it
possible to make more precise identifications of material, including
nonplated titanosaurs, already excavated. And _Ampelosaurus_ may even have
some relatives close by: Although most sites of this age in Europe contain
only marine organisms, the Aude Valley site appears to be studded with
dinosaur fossils.

[I beg to differ about the "American point of view" with respect to sauropod
evolution, by the way.--G.O.]