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DESTINATION: ROMANIA/Dinosaur Geopark: Dragons, raptors, dinosaurs that once roamed Hateg Land put on display

If you’ve ever wanted to see a life-size dinosaur, a fight scene between the ferocious animals that lived 70 million years ago, or what the dwarf dinosaurs that once roamed Hateg Land looked like, then you must plan spending at least one day of your vacation at the Dinosaur Geopark here.

Photo credit: (c) Sorin BLADA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

Managed by the University of Bucharest and defined as a natural park sitting in the Hateg Depression, the Dinosaur Geopark is a protected area with a special status, the key element that gives its specific being the 70-million-year-old dinosaur fossil sites dating from the Upper Cretaceous. The dwarf dinosaurs that lived in the Hateg Depression are unique in the world, and their importance and attractiveness is enhanced by the discoveries of nests with dinosaur eggs and embryos, of mammals contemporary of the dinosaurs and of the remains of a flying reptile — the Hatzegopteryx, considered to be one of the largest representatives of the Pterosaur (flying reptiles) group. The Geopark was declared a protected area of national interest in 2004, and one year later it was accepted into the European Geoparks Network and the Global Geoparks Network under the UNESCO auspices.

Leaving aside this technical data, the Dinosaur Geopark is one of the newest and most offbeat tourist destinations of Hunedoara County. The attractions are consistently distributed in the Geopark territory along four thematic trails, allowing for one-day hikes during which the visitors can learn a lot of interesting things from the authorized guides.

“The Geopark provides the setting for the development of a less conventional tourist destination, with focus on the promotion of geo—and bio-diversity. For this reason, our efforts concentrate on designing thematic tourist routes, visiting and interpretation spots subsumed under the slogan ‘Walk through the ages’. Our purpose is to give visitors the opportunity to discover Hateg Land, beginning with the time when the landforms took shape, advancing through the age of dinosaurs, of the Romans, the knights, getting to know the traditions and culture specific for this area until this day. Therefore, we chose the variant of fitting out several visiting points and not a classic museum collecting everything under one roof, exactly in order to give visitors the opportunity to spend as much time as possible in Hateg Land,” says Dr. Alexandru Andrasanu, director of the Hateg Land Dinosaur Geopark.

There is no way you could get bored in the Dinosaur Geopark. Undoubtedly, for the tourist coming here on holiday, and especially for children, the dramatic element of the trip is represented by the Magyarosaurus dacus, the life-size model of a dinosaur that lived 70 million years ago in Hateg Land. With a height of three meters and seven meters long, the Magyarosaurus was built by Canadian paleoartist Brian Cooley, a sculptor who acquired world fame for his minutely fleshing out the skeletons uncovered by paleontologists, under strict observance of all the scientific details provided by researchers. But this is just one of the Geopark temptations.

“At this moment, we have several exhibitions on various themes opened in the Geopark. At the Geopark headquarters in Hateg the visitors can admire the exhibition ‘Dragons, Raptors, Dinosaurs’. At the Center for Science and Arts of the Bucharest University in the General Berthelot commune, the tourists are greeted by the Magyarosaurus dacus, and inside they can see two exceptional exhibitions: ‘Calligraphy of Time’ and ‘Soul Prints’, developed together with students of the Bucharest University of Arts,” explains Adina Popa, communication expert with the Hateg Land Dinosaur Geopark.

The series of pleasant surprises continues in Sanpetru — Sintamaria Orlea commune, where children and adults alike are welcome to the House of Dwarf Dinosaurs. Here they can find out, among others, how a paleontological site is organized, and as a reward for having been patient, children but also the adults who are still children at heart, can model their own dinosaurs of clay.

Photo credit: (c) Sorin LUPSA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

“Of recent, another two visiting points were added to our map — the Volcanoes House in Densus and the Pestera Traditional Technology Complex in Salasu de Sus. Both were fitted out this summer with Geopark volunteers. All visiting spots are situated on the four thematic trails suggestively titled: ‘The Dinosaurs Valley’, ‘The Volcanoes Trail’, ‘History and Legends’, and ‘Nature and Tradition’,” details Adina Popa.

On a sunny day with pleasant temperatures, any of the four trails conceived within the boundaries of the Dinosaur Geopark can be covered without difficulty. People with an average physical condition who want to do some exercise can hop on the bike and wheel off the entire distance. Each route is approximately 40 kilometers long and can be easily covered in one day. There is also the option of a motorized tour that turns the trip into an easy-breezy experience.

Let’s start with the “Volcanoes Trail”, having administrator of the Dinosaur Geopark assets Dr. Cristian Ciobanu as guide.

“The trail runs between the villages of Densus and Stei, near the famous St. Nicholas Church of the Densus commune. ‘The Volcanoes Trail’ revives two worlds that disappeared long ago: the volcanoes and the remnants of their eruptions — ash, ‘pillow’-type lava, solidified lava and many others — and the Tethys Sea, of which rocks are preserved with traces of the creatures that lived in the water more than 2,000 m deep,” explains Cristian Ciobanu. The ‘Volcanoes Trail’ follows the main road from the village center on a 3 km long portion to the geological site. From there, a section follows the road in the Stei village to the church, and another section heads northwards on a dirt forest road, up above the volcanic rocks that hold an observation point for birds of prey. Arrived here the hiker can follow a different route: Densus — Rachitova, that will take him in about an hour and a half to the Medieval Tower of Rachitova. “Near the geological site the route passes by the Volcanoes House, an experimental museum in a cob construction, that is a natural building material made mainly from sand, clay and straw. Here the visitors can learn more about the Earth, volcanism, crystals and especially about how this corner of the world looked like in the time of the dinosaurs,” elaborates the Dinosaur Geopark specialist.

Equally spectacular and interesting is the ‘Dinosaurs Valley’ route that crosses the localities of Hateg, Sintamaria Orlea, Sinpetru, Sibisel and Ohaba Sibisel. On a distance of 32 kilometers one sees the medieval church in Santamaria Orlea, the St. George Church (14th century), the House of Dwarf Dinosaurs, the fossil sites on Sibiselului Valley, the granite boulder field and the traditional village Ohaba Sibisel.

Photo credit: (c) Sorin BLADA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

Dubbed ‘History and Legends’, the third trail that invites one to explore the Dinosaur Geopark takes one past the medieval church in the Pesteana village, the Hateg Village Museum, the former capital of Roman Dacia — Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, and then, after crossing the Clopotiva village, it reaches Cetatea de Colt / The Rocky Ridge Citadel, which is said to have inspired Jules Verne for writing his “The Castle of the Carpathians.”

And if you found these three routes thrilling, than you must also follow the one called ‘Nature and Tradition’. Setting off from Hateg one passes by the medieval church of Sintamaria Orlea and then stops at the lookout point Varful Poieni. After a few minutes of rest, one continues towards the Knyaz’s Court and the Serfs’ Church in Salasu de Sus, then one gets to the Daffodil Glade, the Malaiesti Fortress and catches his breath at the visitor center of the Retezat National Park in the town of Nucsoara. On the way back to Hateg one can stop at the church of Nucsoara that was mentioned in documents as early as in the 13th century, and at the traditional complex “The road of water and the stone” in Pestera.

Photo credit: (c) Sorin BLADA / AGERPRES ARCHIVE

All departures along the themed trails begin at the Geopark Visitor Centre in Hateg town, where the exhibition “Dragons, Raptors, Dinosaurs” can be seen. It’s a special exhibition, because one has the opportunity to see the unique dwarf dinosaur that once roamed this area, in a natural size reproduction. Even if its name is “Balaurul bondoc / The Stocky dragon” and its length is of just 1.8 meters, this dinosaur was a genuinely ferocious creature.

Displayed opposite the aisle is the “Zalmoxes robustus”, a herbivorous dinosaur some 3 m long that weighed about 300 — 350 kilograms and preferred living in a humid environment near watercourses. Its name signifies “the robust lizard of Zalmoxes”. Zalmoxes robustus fossils were among the first dinosaur fossils discovered in the Hateg Basin by Baron Franz Nopcsa, who also described and illustrated them in his 1902 monograph.

Alexandru Costin, a young volunteer at the Hateg Land Dinosaur Geopark, believes that the exhibition “Dragons, Raptors, Dinosaurs” is a genuine journey in time. “It takes us to times long past, where scientifically proven truth entwines with the mystery of the still unknown, local legends and myths. Together they create a magical atmosphere.”

So, the Hateg Land Dinosaur Geopark can be a perfect destination for a mini-holiday at the foot of Retezat. Add to the tourism landmarks the welcomeness of the hosts, the charming nature and the traditional food served at the certified boarding houses in the area and you’ll get the successful recipe of a day to tell your friends about. AGERPRES

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THE GIST:

– Dwarf dinosaurs existed on a Late Cretaceous island, a new analysis of bones confirms.

– Dwarf dinosaurs appear to have emerged from a process called progenesis, which shortens the developmental period.

– The dwarf dinosaurs lived fast, reaching sexual maturity at earlier ages than their mainland counterparts, and they likely died young.

A new study not only confirms the existence of dwarf dinosaurs, but also explains how dinosaurs shrank during the Late Cretaceous at a Neverland-like place — Hateg Island, Romania — where dinos never really grew up.

According to the study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, the unusual phenomenon appears to have only affected some of the island’s dinosaur residents.

Benton, who directs the Palaeobiology and Biodiversity Research Group at the University of Bristol, and his colleagues conducted one of the most extensive studies yet on the Hateg Island dinosaur remains. They analyzed the dinosaurs’ limb proportions and bone growth patterns, comparing them with those of mainland dinos.

The analysis determined that at least four of the Hateg dinosaurs were dwarves.

The diminutive dinosaurs included the titanosaurian sauropodMagyarosaurus, which had a body length of about 16 to 19 feet. That’s impressive by human standards, but is miniature compared to a sauropod such as Argentinosaurus, which grew to be at least 82 feet long.

Another small dinosaur was the hadrosaurid Telmatosaurus. Its 13-foot-long body contrasted with the average size of other hadrosaurids, which were 23 to 33 feet long, according to Benton.

Two species of Zalmoxes dinosaurs also appear to have been dwarves, with one — Zalmoxes robustus — measuring about 10 feet in length.

“So these forms are all typically half the length of their close relatives on larger land masses, and this equates to a body mass of perhaps one-eighth that of the relatives,” said Benton. “Body mass is what matters most in biological terms, such as physiology and food intake.”

Magnified sections of the dinosaurs’ bones revealed that the animals were adults and not juveniles. The scientists believe the dinosaurs likely shrank due to a process called progenesis, which shortens the developmental period. Sexual maturity happened early, and these dinosaurs may have also died two to five years younger than their “normal”-sized counterparts.

“This in-depth study by Benton and colleagues is both fascinating and provocative,” paleontologist Scott Sampson, a research curator at the Utah Museum of Natural History, told Discovery News, “demonstrating that the largest group of animals ever to walk the earth included dwarfed varieties.”

Sampson added that the study also supports “the more general ‘island rule’– the idea that, when marooned on islands, evolution tends to make large animals smaller, and small animals larger.”

Scientists continue to debate why this happens on islands. Reduced supplies of food, smaller ranges, and few larger predators have all been theorized.

“I think most biologists accept that there is something going on, and that the island rule has validity,” Benton said.

sources: new discovery

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