Out of the oil emerges Venezuela's 'Jurassic Park' (Update, w/ Images)

Sep 05, 2013 by María Isabel Sánchez
Venezuelan paleontologist Ascanio Rincon shows the skull of a glyptodont found in Venezuela, in Caracas on August, 30, 2013. Under the Venezuelan rich soil lies more than oil: paleontologists have found traces of an armadillo the size of a Volkswagen, a crocodile bigger than a bus, a mastodon of six tonnes and a saber-toothed tiger. Now, they walk after the human fossil.

Under the rich Venezuelan soil, paleontologists have found treasures rivaling the bountiful oil: a giant armadillo the size of a Volkswagen, a crocodile bigger than a bus and a saber-toothed tiger.

Oil companies' surveys of the soil have uncovered a trove of fossils dating from 14,000 to 370 million years ago.

Many of the 12,000 recorded specimens from different eras are now kept in a tiny office of the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research.

A strong smell of oil fills the room as Ascania Rincon opens the drawer of a filing cabinet to reveal the tar-stained femur of a giant, six-ton from 25,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age.

Unfazed by the significance of the finds already made, the head of the institute's Laboratory of Paleontology is intent on realizing his next goal: locating human fossils for proof of prehistoric human life in the area.

"We are close. You have to keep exploring the area. We have already found spearheads," he told AFP. "What's lacking is reliable indication that man hunted the that we are finding. And lacking are human fossils."

Located in northern South America, Venezuela has a complex that leaves it swimming in teeming with life preserved from so very long ago.

Venezuelan paleontologist Ascanio Rincon shows bones of phehistoric animals found in Venezuela, in Caracas on August, 30, 2013. Under the Venezuelan rich soil lies more than oil: paleontologists have found traces of an armadillo the size of a Volkswagen, a crocodile bigger than a bus, a mastodon of six tonnes and a saber-toothed tiger.

Most of the fossils are concentrated in a large area north of the Orinoco River where the Atlantic Ocean originated 200 million years ago, the explained.

About eight million years ago, the Orinoco was formed, followed by the Isthmus of Panama (or Isthmus of Darien, which links North and South America) about three to five million years ago.

The fossils found during the surveys include a featherless chicken that looked like an iguana, a three-meter (10-foot) pelican and giant sloths that lived on land 12 million year ago, unlike their modern relatives living in the trees.

But it can take years to prepare a fossil for classification. Experts needed four years after its discovery to identify a saber-toothed tiger, a darling of the collection dubbed Homotherium venezuelensis.

Venezuelan paleontologist Ascanio Rincon shows bones of phehistoric animals found in Venezuela, in Caracas on August, 30, 2013. Under the Venezuelan rich soil lies more than oil: paleontologists have found traces of an armadillo the size of a Volkswagen, a crocodile bigger than a bus, a mastodon of six tonnes and a saber-toothed tiger.

Once a fossil is found, experts must remove the sediment, transport it, wash it and carefully compare it to existing specimens.

In September, the institute plans to announce the discovery in a remote area of the country of a new species, Rincon said proudly, without revealing the whole surprise.

"Imagine a puzzle of 5,000 pieces and you have 200 pieces you are trying to interpret and draw a conclusion that might contribute something to science," he said.

Rincon's laboratory, staffed with only five researchers, has state and private support but lacks the logistical and technological resources of similar operations in other countries.

Venezuelan paleontologist Ascanio Rincon shows a jaw of a phehistoric animal found in Venezuela, in Caracas on August, 30, 2013. Under the Venezuelan rich soil lies more than oil: paleontologists have found traces of an armadillo the size of a Volkswagen, a crocodile bigger than a bus, a mastodon of six tonnes and a saber-toothed tiger.

His team finds in paleontology a mission to raise awareness of what was on the planet millions of years ago and encourage people to care for the Earth today.

"We are destroying what little is left of the forests, oceans, deserts; we are destroying our ecosystems and accelerating extinction," said Rincon.

The researcher, who knew he wanted to be a paleontologist since he was eight years old, urged the younger generations to take up the torch.

"Paleontology is fun. It seems that it has no use, but it has economic implications. With a fossil record, we can determine the age of an oil field," he said.

Explore further: 550-million-year-old fossils provide new clues about fossil formation

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Alligator relatives slipped across ancient seaways

Mar 04, 2013

The uplift of the Isthmus of Panama 2.6 million years ago formed a land-bridge that has long thought to be the crucial step in the interchange of animals between the Americas, including armadillos and giant ...

Australian builders unearth city fossil trove

Jul 16, 2013

Australian builders doing roadworks have uncovered a rare urban trove of crocodile and other fossils thought to be around 50 million years old, officials said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Short-necked Triassic marine reptile discovered in China

Dec 17, 2014

A new species of short-necked marine reptile from the Triassic period has been discovered in China, according to a study published December 17, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xiao-hong Chen f ...

Gothic cathedrals blend iron and stone

Dec 17, 2014

Using radiocarbon dating on metal found in Gothic cathedrals, an interdisciplinary team has shown, for the first time through absolute dating, that iron was used to reinforce stone from the construction phase. ...

Research shows Jaws didn't kill his cousin

Dec 16, 2014

New research suggests our jawed ancestors weren't responsible for the demise of their jawless cousins as had been assumed. Instead Dr Robert Sansom from The University of Manchester believes rising sea levels ...

User comments : 10

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

travis_shenk
2.1 / 5 (7) Sep 05, 2013
Where are the pictures of these fossils? They don't have cameras in Venezuela. Pics or it didn't happen.
SwedeFromMinn
2.1 / 5 (7) Sep 05, 2013
Giant sloths did not live 12 million years ago.
HawaiianNeal
1.3 / 5 (12) Sep 05, 2013
Great! We can now feed a family of 4 for a week! Whooooo-hoooooo! Giant armadillo!
praetorperegrinus
4 / 5 (4) Sep 05, 2013
SwedeFromMinn: While there were many different types of ground sloth, according to the current scientific record, Giant Sloths did indeed live 12 million years ago. In fact, they are believed to have first appeared over 30 million years ago, and did not become completely extinct until around 11,000 years ago.
Sinister1811
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 05, 2013
Where are the pictures of these fossils? They don't have cameras in Venezuela. Pics or it didn't happen.


They must've heard you. They've added the photos now. Because they probably didn't have them earlier.
Captain Stumpy
1.7 / 5 (12) Sep 05, 2013
"We are close. You have to keep exploring the area. We have already found spearheads," he told AFP. "What's lacking is reliable indication that man hunted the megafauna that we are finding. And lacking are human fossils."

stone knife/spear marks in the softer bone while skinning/ butchering will leave evidence that will show up in the fossils. it would be even better if they found points imbedded in the bone... but just because there are spear heads does not mean that they existed together.
the title suggests that the finds are from a liquid find, but even with high viscosity liquid or even something like quicksand, a heavier stone tool would settle lower than a bone.

@HawaianNeal
LOL -too funny... you aint from the deep south originally, are ya?

Kiwini
1.3 / 5 (15) Sep 06, 2013
@HawaianNeal
LOL -too funny... you aint from the deep south originally, are ya?

He's from the DEEP south...

Take another look at the globe... Hawaii-nei is the furthest south of any state: it's at the same latitude as as Cuba.

And you'd need a big imu for one of those puppies.
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (9) Sep 07, 2013
LMFAO! can you imagine the backhoe you would need to dig that out?
I meant the "traditional" deep south,where the war of northern aggression forced states to succeed in order to retain autonomy, like Arkansas, or TN, KY, etc, where the hillbilly lives.... sorry
thanks for the reminder, though, Kiwini... not many people class Hawaii as a "southern" state, although it is technically our southernmost state.

that would be on heck of a luau, though !!
Gmr
1.7 / 5 (6) Sep 07, 2013
Kentucky did not secede, by the by - they voted to stay with the union...
Captain Stumpy
1.4 / 5 (10) Sep 07, 2013
Kentucky did not secede, by the by - they voted to stay with the union...


sorry...you are correct. I meant to put Virginia... don't know why I wrote Ky... probably because I was talking to the wife about heading there (Ky) to visit a friend... thank you for pointing that out. I was not paying attention.
Ky is considered one of the "southern states" though...with hillbilly's and all ...not that it matters, really. just lack of seep and a mistake. I apologize

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.