efe-epaBy Pablo Ramón Ochoa Buenos Aires

The largest and oldest dinosaurs to have walked the Earth lived in vast swathes of Argentinian lands considered by many paleontologists as a prehistoric paradise.

Argentina is a fertile ground for dinosaur bones with two key locations: Patagonia, an extensive flat and arid zone comprised of sparsely populated deserts and grasslands that leave bones exposed, and the Andes, a young mountain range with strata of various periods, paleontologist Sebastián Apesteguía told Efe.

"Everything we call the arid diagonal is a paleontological reservoir: it goes from the southernmost south to escape along the northwest line," he said.

He added that "five species per year" have been discovered in Argentina, similar to those of geographically larger nations such as the United States and China.

The other feature that draws attention from paleontologists around the world is the unique species that have been found in the Patagonian dust.

"Unlike the United States, most fossils are rare things because they are far from the images that formed the imagery of how these large reptiles were," Apesteguía said.

New species discovered in Argentina have expanded the universe of dinosaurs, with records of size such as that of Patagotitan mayorum, which at 37 meters long and weighing 70 tons is the largest known dinosaur.

This is because South America was an isolated continent for a long time and the species evolved differently there, according to scientists.

Apesteguía was one of the authors of an article that presented the discovery of Bajadasaurus pronuspinax, a species with horns and spikes on the neck that was found in Argentina’s Neuquén region.

"It was a crazy, unexpected thing. What appears in the future will give a lot to talk about," he added.

The last ingredient of this sauropod megacenter is in the Cuyo region which is home to a multitude of remains that contain information about dinosaurs from the Triassic period, the origin of these animals.

The rest of the country houses fossils from other eras such as the Cretaceous and the Lower Jurassic, of which there are few strata worldwide.

Argentina forms an immense arena for scientists and future generations who can learn from the work of colleagues such as Diego Pol, whose team discovered the colossal Patagotitan, and Fernando Novas, of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council.

One of Novas' disciples is PhD student Jordi Alexis García, who went to Argentina three years ago to investigate the origin of paleontological expeditions compared to his native country Spain.

"Unlike Europe, it is still a country within a very pristine continent, there is much to discover and there is still that adventure, that emotion of exploration, of the untamed," he said.

Two of his colleagues Mauro Aranciaga and Matías Motta are part of a new generation of Argentine paleontologists.

Aranciaga said that it takes years from when remains are found until the discovery of a new dinosaur is published.

A field campaign can last between fifteen days and a month and then the fossils are taken to a laboratory to investigate and study them thoroughly.

Around 100 Argentine paleontologists are continuing the work, mostly funded by private foreign entities such as the Jurassic Foundation or National Geographic, especially since Argentina was hit by an economic crisis in April 2018.

"The work is for survival," Apesteguía said and called for the re-activation of a subsidized project proposal by the government.

PhD paleontologist Matías Motta, who is preparing his next announcement, the discovery of a small dinosaur, in a laboratory, has questioned the cuts.

"We are really contributing a lot to the knowledge, not only of Argentina but of the whole world, because of all the evolutionary history what happened in Argentina is particular," he said.

"Argentina is recognized worldwide for paleontology and that we cannot exploiting it for lack of subsidies is really a shame."

"It's like extinguishing science," Motta added. EFE-EPA