The Chilean Culture Ministry on Monday announced the discovery of a new species of dinosaur measuring an estimated 6.3 meters (20.7 feet) in length, that lived in what is now the northern Atacama desert region during the final phase of the Cretaceous Period, between 66 and 80 million years ago.
The fossilized specimen, dubbed Arackar licanantay (which means "Atacama bones" in the Kunza language), belongs to the group of titanosaurs, quadruped herbivores with a small head, long neck and long tail.
Several species within this group are presently among the largest land animals ever to walk the Earth, although the one found in Chile is one of the smaller members of that family, relatively speaking.
The bones that have been found belonged to a sub-adult that - when fully grown - could have measured up to 8 meters in length, and the specific bones uncovered include a femur, a humerus, an ischium and several neck and dorsal vertebrae, thus making it one of the most complete titanosaur skeletons found along South America's western rim.
This is the third non-avian dinosaur found in Chile - after Atacamatitan chilensis and Chilesaurus diegosuarezi - and the find was officially announced in an article published in the specialized international journal Cretaceous Research and announced by Chilean authorities on Monday at a press conference.
The find was made during the 1990s by Chilean geologist Carlos Arevalo, who unearthed the specimen along with personnel from the National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) in a spot about 75 kilometers (46.5 miles) south of the city of Copiapo in the Atacama region.
Since 2000, the remains have been under study by a team of paleontologists from the University of Chile's Paleontological Network, Chile's National Museum of Natural History and the Dinosaur Laboratory at Argentina's National University of Cuyo, who are undertaking new digs in the area.
Analysis of the fossilized remains has revealed several unique characteristics of this species, including aspects of the dorsal vertebrae which enabled scientists to differentiate this specimen from other similar beasts in the same group and identify it as a different species.
"It's a significant landmark for Chile's paleontological heritage. The group of titanosaurs is very broad and diverse, with repeated finds in what is today Argentina and Brazil. However, it's much rarer to find them on this side of the (Andes) mountains. There are many fewer examples of them," said the head of the Paleontology Sector at the National Museum of Natural History, David Rubilar.
Another particularity of this new dinosaur is related to the arrangement of its limbs, the director of the University of Chile's Paleontological Network and a professor in the Science School, Alexander Vargas, said.
"One characteristic of many titanosaurs is that their legs were at an open angle. Our dinosaur does not have that angle, it's rather upright in comparison with the femur of other titanosaurs. Other titanosaurs are known for this, but it's not the most common feature. One of them is the Rapetosaurus, from Madagascar, and another is the Atacamatitan from the Antofagasta region, the first Chilean dinosaur," Vargas said.
"It would be interesting to explore why only the two Chilean titanosaurs are like this. There could be some relationship between them or some biogeographical element," he added.
The fossilized remains of Arackar licanantay, which are being housed at Sernageomin facilities, will be on exhibition at the Central Hall of the National Museum of Natural History so that the public can view them as soon as coronavirus pandemic restrictions are lifted.