Chicken-sized dino with mane furlike stirs ethics debate Science

The dinosaur Ubirajara jubatus lived more than 110 million years ago in the area known as northeastern Brazil.

© Bob Nicholls /

Le Gretchen Vogel

About 110 million years ago in modern-day Brazil, a dinosaur cut the size of a warm figure paint with a display of mammalian fur-like filaments and narrow, bladelike structures exploding from the shoulders. Now it is under consideration for another reason: questions about how it fell into the hands of paleontologists who reported last week and added it to a museum collection in southwestern Germany.

Some researchers say the sample may have been taken illegally. The authors state that they were allowed to extract the fossil from Brazil as part of a fossil loading. But under Brazilian law, “Fossil exports are not legal. Time, ”just loans, says Alexander Kellner, paleontologist and director of the National Museum at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

The fossil was found in northeastern Brazil, possibly by a worker in one of the many lime quarries in the region. The researchers who prepared and described the sample were named Ubirajara jubatus. Ubirajara meaning “lord of the spears” in Tupi, one of the indigenous languages ​​spoken in the area. Jubatus Latin for “maned.” This is the first dinosaur from the Southern Hemisphere with structures that may have been associated with early feathers, although the branched filaments were not like modern bird feathers. The creature apparently had an impressive mane on its neck and its fur coat was “like a teddy” – although it had very rough claws, says Eberhard Frey, a paleontologist at the Karlsruhe State Museum of Natural History. which helped guide the new study of the fossil.

The researchers also found stiff, bladelike structures up to 15 centimeters long that extended from the animal’s shoulders. They were like decorations, perhaps used in a courtship show, Frey and colleagues wrote inside Cretaceous Research on 13 December. The bladelike structures, which do not appear to be as mineral as bone, are “the strange and strange thing that needs to be understood,” said Michael Benton, a paleontologist at Bristol University who was not involved in the work. The creature will help scientists better understand how flighty structures evolved, he says.

Frey and co-author David Martill, a paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth, say the sample was taken in 1995 with all necessary permits, based on the 1942 law governing fossil collection. There is a chief editor Cretaceous Research, paleontologist Eduardo Koutsoukos, says the authors have “documentary evidence” to confirm that they obtained permission from a Brazilian official to extract the fossil. However, Frey admits that the permissions for samples were anonymous, so, “It arrived legally, but we can’t confirm it correctly.”

Other researchers claim that, since at least 1990, Brazilian rules have banned the sale or export of fossils from the country. Taissa Rodrigues Marques da Silva, a paleontologist expert at the Federal University of Espírito Santo, Goiabeiras, says that although laws covering fossils in Brazil are complex and have not always been enforced, it is clear that they prohibit permanent exports. “It would be great if they could provide more detailed data” on the export licenses, she said.

Rodrigues, Kellner, and others have questioned why the researchers waited so long to publish the sample, questioning whether it relates to the false history of the crown. Frey says it was not clear at first that the fossil was anything special, and it took several years of work recognizing the importance of the sample.

But Kellner is not sure. “It is hard to believe that no paleontologist would have recognized the importance of this sample and did not publish it earlier,” he says.

Martill, who has been working with other controversial fossils from Brazil, has said publicly that buying fossils can make them safe for scientific study. But many paleontologists argue that the market fuels the collection of collectors that could make samples accessible to researchers. Rodrigues says that although fossils have been commonly purchased in northeastern Brazil in the past, the situation has improved. She says the local paleontology community has built relationships with mine workers who often search for fossils. “Mine workers know the fossils are important, and they take them to the museum,” instead of trying to sell them, she said.

“Fossils have previously been sold in Brazil,” Kellner says. “But here we have a vibrant paleontology community working hard to keep fossils like this dinosaur in the country. Everyone is welcome to study, publish – and return. “

Frey said ScienceInside he wants to reach out to Brazilian colleagues, including Kellner, for a solution. He could think of an agreement, he says, that could allow the Karlsruhe museum to display the sample for a few years before returning it to Brazil. “We are trying to find a way to resolve this in a fair way and in a way that makes sense.”