The Island of Dwarf Dinosaurs

The Haţeg Country Dinosaurs Geopark
The Haţeg Country Dinosaurs Geopark is located in the central part of Romania, in a very fertile region, surrounded by mountains from all directions. The Geopark covers an area of 102.392 ha that include a town and 10 communes, the total population of the Geopark area is about 39000 people. Besides the very picturesque landscapes with numerous glacial lakes on the top of the mountains, at more than 2000 m high, deep gorges, caves, alpine forests, meadows, orchards and crops,the region hosts remains of the human history from Paleolithic to Roman Antiquity and from the Middle-Age to the Modern time.

The history of the Haţeg Country is spanning more than 300 million years of history when the Earth surface was completely different than today. The rocks and fossils found now were formed in places and environments like coral reefs, volcanic island in the Tethys Sea populated by dinosaurs and other reptiles, primitive mammals and birds, or continental areas covered by Ice Age glaciers. The geopark is guiding the visitors in geo-trails to discover the Retezat type granite, metamorphic rocks, bauxite quarries, reef limestone, areas of volcanic activity, fossil sites, karst and cave systems.

The Haţeg area contains one of the latest assemblages of dinosaurs in the world. The fossil remains are internationally unique and are commonly known as the 'dwarf dinosaurs of Transylvania'.

The list of dinosaur species from Haţeg includes: Magyarosaurus dacus, a titanosaurid sauropod, distantly related to the large herbivorous dinosaurs from the Late Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous of the world, two ornithopods (bird-like feets): Rhabdodon priscus, an iguanodontid, and Telmatosaurus transsylvanicus (a 'duck-billed' dinosaur), an ankylosaur or 'armored dinosaur' - Struthiosaurus transylvanicus. All these species were herbivorous, but the carnivorous dinosaurs theropods, even poorly represented were also recognized on the basees of isolated teeth. They include at least two groups of small theropods: the dromaeosaurids and troodontids, like as Velociraptorinae indet, Euronychodon and Paronychodon. Vlad Codrea, a professor of biology and geology at University Babes-Bolyai in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and colleague Pascal Godefroit recently found several bones belonging to Zalmoxes shqiperorum, an herbivorous dinosaur with forelimbs that were much shorter than its hindlimbs.

Other reptile fossils are: turtles Kallokibotion bajazidi, crocodilians Allodaposuchus precedens, and remains of the largest pterosaurs or 'flying-reptiles' in the world, Hatzegopterix tambema with a wing span of 14m and a skull 3m long.

The beginnings
In 1900, the sister of an eccentric Austro-Hungarian aristocrat named Baron von Nopsca found a tiny bone on the baron's family estate in Transylvania. The baron, who was a dinosaur buff, identified the bone as belonging to a dwarf dino that likely once lived on an island in the region. The motorcycle-riding baron's outrageous theories were ridiculed and largely dismissed, but now new evidence suggests his proposed island of dwarf dinosaurs did indeed exist in the land of the mythical, blood-drinking Count Dracula.

The Island Effect
Although many scientists scoffed at the notion of tiny dinosaurs inhabiting Transylvania, imminent paleontologist David Weishampel, fresh out of graduate school, became intrigued by the baron's findings, which he investigated first-hand in Romania. Weishampel, who now works in the Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution at Johns Hopkins University, came to the conclusion that Nopsca was right -- very small dinosaurs really did live in Romania during the Late Cretaceous (around 70 to 65 million years ago). He also agreed with the baron's theory that life in isolation on an island, which Weishampel has named Haţeg Island, led to the dino dwarfism.