Where to go to… meet dinosaurs in Italy

THE Are your kids crazy about dinosaurs? Here’s how you can organize a close encounter for them

dinosaurswhat a passion

You or your children are fascinated by the world of gods dinosaurs? How not to understand so much interest! Although several tens (if not hundreds) of millions of years separate us from these fascinating ancestral beings, it is still today difficult to resist the desire to know more about the animals that dominated the globe during awas so long – that Mesozoic which goes from 245 to 65 million years ago and is divided into three periods (Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous) – as to make human existence appear to be a very short interval.

Books for all ages, films and cartoons also consecrated its image. If we asked you to close your eyes and say where do you imagine these animals lived, you would probably start listing places very far from the current Italian borders. In fact, the large reptiles lived practically everywhere in the emerged (and submerged) lands of millions of years ago and, up until a very few decades ago, it was thought that Italy, at that time, was covered by the then Tethys Ocean. This erroneous assessment therefore led to the assumption that they could not be with us found traces of dinosaur. The only exception was a small footprint found in Tuscany in 1940 which, however, remained the only discovery made in this area until about forty years later. However, starting from the 80s, the first evident traces of dinosaurs were found in Italy and some of these finds have been valorised thanks to the activity lavished by museums and archaeological parks

So here are some of the places where you can go perhaps making “Welcome to Jurassic Park” by John Williams, the well-known soundtrack of Jurassic Park.

Discovering Ciro: a “unique” dinosaur

On your tour as novice paleontologists, you cannot miss a visit to “Cyrus” although its scientific name is Scipionyx (which in Greek means claw) and is a very particular specimen. The only fossil of this carnivorous dinosaur – which lived in the lower Cretaceous 110 million years ago – was found in Italy, near Benevento. It was a puppy of about 50 cm (as an adult it would have become 1.3 meters tall and 2 long) and has become a real celebrity due to its state of conservation: in addition to the skeleton, petrified soft tissues have remained which, thanks to the studies carried out by the experts, they also made it possible to discover what it ate. Today Ciro is kept by the Archaeological Superintendency of Caserta and Benevento and is exhibited at the Paoleolab in Pietraroja. Thanks to an elevator, visitors begin their “journey” by being teleported to geological eras of the past!

Some casts of the famous dinosaur have also been reproduced and can be seen in various Italian museums.

In the footsteps of dinosaurs in Puglia

If it is more difficult to find dinosaur skeletons in the centre-south, nevertheless in recent decades the discovery of the footprints of these mammoth beings has been very frequent. In Puglia, for example, in the Altamura area (province of Bari) and in the Gargano, there are many recovered specimens that tell us about the times when – between the Jurassic and the Cretaceous – the famous reptiles were in charge.

Even if, unlike the skeletal remains recovered, the footprints do not allow us to trace the exact species from which they originated, we can however deduce the “families” or groups to which they belonged. We therefore know that in Puglia we could have met the allosaurus, ceratosaurs or ornithomimids as well as medium-small sized theropods. Among herbivores better known, we could have admired the brontosaurs and ankylosaurs! In particular, in Altamura, we could have gotten to know the hadrosaursalso known as “duck-billed dinosaurs”.

To help us make this journey through time are the paleontological museum and the dinosaur park built right in Village of Celano (a fraction of San Marco in Lamis, province of Foggia). In the green space of the park you can take an immersive path in the habitat of large life-size reptiles which, thanks to paleontology and technology, return to live and move in this territory dominated by them millions of years ago. Don’t forget to access the museum which will allow you to complete the interactive visit.

Also in Puglia, remember to go to the Dinosaur Park of Castellana Caves – an open-air museum with life-size animals reconstructed following the findings of paleontologists all over the planet from 1820 to today – or at the Boscosaurus of Altamura where you can admire 30,000 dinosaur footprints as well as 25 life-size reconstructions.

The herd of dinosaurs and the discovery of Antonio and Bruno

The first herd of dinosaurs in Italy was discovered only a few decades ago (in the 90s) near Trieste and the news was so sensational that it rewrote the reconstruction of the history of our lands. The discovery brought to light numerous dinosaur skeletons in excellent condition. Studies have shown that these animals were herbivores and, among them, in particular, two androsaurs, Bruno and Antonio, have become two celebrities and can be admired at the Natural History Museum of Trieste. Just think that in the excavation finds of other species such as fish, crocodiles and marine reptiles were found which thus provided a “photograph” of the ecosystem of millions of years ago.

Thanks to Bruno, Antonio and the other dinosaurs found, it was possible to discover that the large reptiles were present a good 80 million years ago, moving the clock of history back 10 million years. Both Tethyshadros insularis have become famous for the exceptional conditions in which they were found: Antonio is among the most complete dinosaurs ever found in the world and Bruno, as you can admire by visiting the museum site, is the only dinosaur on the planet to be found on a fold in the rock that curves its skeleton by 180 degrees. If you are passing through Trieste, you cannot forget to visit them!

A 135 cm footprint in Abruzzo!

To date, considering parks, naturalistic areas and museums, there are many sites that allow you to admire the traces of the glorious past of the dinosaurs in our territories thanks in particular to the discoveries made in the last 40 years. If it is impossible to mention all the places, we would like to conclude our paleontological journey on the Monte Cagno. Here, in Abruzzo, in 2017 researchers from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology together with ichnologists from the Sapienza University of Rome found a footprint over 135 cm long, thus completing a study begun eleven years earlier. The footprint is that of a paw and a metatarsal of a dinosaur – which lived between 125 and 113 million years ago, when the area was an archipelago of islands – and photographed from the rock in a moment of rest. According to estimates, the animal must have been between 7 and 9 meters long.

The area has been declared of cultural interest and can be visited. The route, although not particularly long, covers a demanding stretch and therefore do not venture without adequate physical preparation.

Where to go to… meet dinosaurs in Italy – Donnamoderna