Dinosaur remains present on Slovenian soil

Ljubljana, 21 August - News are constantly coming from around the globe about new finds of the remains of dinosaurs, terrestrial reptiles which dominated the Earth more than 100 million years ago and became extinct around 66 million years ago. The remains of these "formidable lizards" have also been found in Slovenia and some of them are kept in the Museum of Natural History in Ljubljana.

The skeleton of the mammoth found in 1938 near the town of Kamnik, exhibited at the Natural History Museum.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

Matija Križnar, a geologist and paleontologist from the Museum of Natural History.
Photo: Aleš Osvald/STA

The skeleton of the mammoth found in 1938 near the town of Kamnik, exhibited at the Natural History Museum.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA
File photo

The remains of the terrestrial reptiles dinosaurs and the flying reptiles pterosaurs mostly come from countries rich in fossil-bearing layers such as Canada, the US, China, Mongolia and Africa.

The Canadian province of Alberta, for example, has extensive fossil-bearing areas, and the situation is similar in Mongolia, where dinosaur bones are virtually sticking out from the ground, Matija Križnar, a geologist and palaeontologist from the Museum of Natural History, has told the STA.

Slovenia and its neighbouring countries are much more forested and rocks are not exposed, but there are nevertheless some dinosaur finds here and there.

According to the website of the Ivan Rakovec Institute of Palaeontology of the Slovenian Academy of Arts and Sciences, the first dinosaur remains in Slovenia were found during the construction of the motorway near Kozina in the south-west in 1999. In rocks created in Late Cretaceous, pieces of broken bones and a number of well-preserved teeth belonging to the herbivorous Hadrosaur and the carnivorous Dromaeosaur, were found.

In 2000, fossil collector Franc Pajtler found a small bone fragment in the Stranice quarry under the Pohorje range in south-eastern Slovenia, which belonged to a herbivorous dinosaur, and some larger pieces of dinosaur bones also come from the same site.

As Križnar said, these are small sites, while larger and richer sites with dinosaur traces can be found in the Istrian peninsula and in Croatia, where there are around 25 of them.

Two world-famous dinosaur sites are actually located very near Slovenia. A very rich underwater site containing dinosaur bones is located near the village of Bale in the Croatian Istria, and the other one is located near Trieste, Italy, where two extremely well-preserved Hadrosaur skeletons have been found in the last 20 years. They have been preserved by a pool of mud near Duino, and belong among the best preserved dinosaur remains in the world.

The biggest number of paleontological finds in Slovenia are kept at the Museum of Natural History, while the Ivan Rakovec Institute of Palaeontology keeps a fine collection of remains of the Kozina dinosaurs.

The institute hosted a few years ago an exhibition called Dinosaurs from Kras and Istria, which presented the finds from Kozina, Bale and Duino. Some smaller collections of dinosaur fossils are kept by the Department of Geology at the Ljubljana Faculty of Natural Sciences and Engineering, and many interesting finds are part of private collections.

There is also a well-known site in Kras, near Komen, containing fish fossils from the Cretaceous period, which was discovered as early as two centuries ago. Some of these fossil remains are kept by the Museum of Natural History, said Križnar.

Large and interesting collections of finds from the territory of present-day Slovenia are kept in Vienna, where the best specimens used to be taken during the period of Austria-Hungary. Križnar says that "some find this disputable, but for paleontologists this is perhaps even good, because this way much more has been preserved than if it remained here, as natural heritage did not used to be treated so well back then".

Križnar explained that almost all large extinct animals, including some mammals, frequently get confused with dinosaurs, which is completely wrong. "Dinosaurs were exclusively terrestrial reptiles, either two- or-four-legged. Flying reptiles were pterosaurs, and large marine reptiles do not belong to dinosaurs either.

Of course, dinosaurs could enter shallow waters, but evolution-wise, they separated themselves from pterosaurs and marine reptiles already in the mid-Triassic 220 million years ago and even earlier."

When we speak about the "extinction of dinosaurs", we actually think about the extinction of a majority of the living animals at the time, including pterosaurs and ichthyosaurs, which was only one out of many similar major extinctions in geological history.

The most widespread hypothesis about the extinction of dinosaurs speaks about an asteroid impact, which was made in the 1980s by US geologist and geophysicist Walter Alvarez, and which was recently confirmed by an international study published in the Science magazine in January.

"Other hypotheses speak of strong volcanic activity in the area of present-day India, while other theories mention everything ranging from disease to rapid changes in climate and the environment.

"But it needs to be said that dinosaur species also got extinct before the asteroid hit, which only facilitated the so-called self-extinctions, or caused the final extinction of the remaining dinosaurs. However, not all residents of Earth got extinct then, as some small mammals and, of course the closest relatives of dinosaurs - birds, survived," he said.