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Scientists in Chile’s parched Atacama desert, the world’s driest, have discovered the remains of a previously unknown species of dinosaur that millions of years ago lived among lush greenery there.

Key points:

  • The so-called titanosaur had a small head and long neck and tail, as well as an unusually flat back compared with others like it
  • The discovery is rare, though several species have been found in Argentina and Brazil, further east
  • The dinosaur’s remains will eventually be exhibited in Chile’s Museum of Natural History

A team led by Chilean geologist Carlos Arévalo unearthed the remains of Arackar licanantay, which means “Atacama bones” in the Kunza language, 75 kilometres south of the desert city of Copiapó.

An artist's impression of a plant-eating dinosaur whose remains scientists discovered in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

The so-called titanosaur had a small head and long neck and tail, as well as an unusually flat back compared with others like it.

Recent paleontological studies suggest Arackar lived amid flowering plants, ferns and palm trees during the Cretaceous period 66-80 million years ago.

Parts of the Atacama today, by contrast, are a moonscape of rock and sand, having gone without rain for 100 years, and support little plant or animal life.

The discovery of a titanosaur on the west side of South America’s Andes Mountains is rare, though several species have been found in Argentina and Brazil, further east.

Atacama DesertThe remains were disovered in the Atacama desert, the world’s driest.(Flickr: Terry Feuerborn)

The dinosaur’s remains were first discovered in the 1990s and were described by the scientists in the journal Cretaceous Research.

Arackar also appears smaller in size compared with some other titanosaurs.

The Argentinosaurus, discovered on the east side of the Andes in neighbouring Argentina, was more than four times as long, scientists say.

The dinosaur’s remains will eventually be exhibited in Chile’s Museum of Natural History, though that is currently closed due to coronavirus restrictions.

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