A Portuguese man accidentally discovered the bones of what may be the largest dinosaur ever found in Europe.
While doing construction on his Pombal, Portugal, property in 2017, he noticed fossilized bone fragments in his yard. The man contacted scientists, who began initial excavations later that year.
The effort to dig up this dinosaur has been ongoing, and this month, Spanish and Portuguese paleontologists unearthed more of the gigantic remains. So far, an “important set of elements of the axial skeleton” has been collected—including vertebrae and 10-foot-long ribs, per a statement.
"It's one of the biggest specimens discovered in Europe, perhaps in the world," Elisabete Malafaia, a paleontologist from the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, tells Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The bones likely belonged to a sauropod, a type of plant-eating dinosaur with a characteristically long neck and tail. This group of dinosaurs included the largest land creatures ever to roam the Earth. Scientists estimate this specimen, which may belong to the Brachiosauridae family, was about 39 feet tall and 82 feet long, per a statement, and lived about 160 to 100 million years ago, during the Upper Jurassic to the Lower Cretaceous.
The Pombal region in central Portugal, where the bones were found, “has an important fossil record of Late Jurassic vertebrates,” Malafaia says in the statement, and it has allowed for several “very significant” discoveries about the animals that lived there 145 million years ago. Still, she says this find was rather unique.
"It is not usual to find all the ribs of an animal like this, let alone in this position, maintaining their original anatomical position,” Malafaia says in the statement. "This kind of preservation is relatively rare for large-sized dinosaurs from the Portuguese fossil record and indicates particular and unusual environmental and taphonomic features," she tells CBS News’ Christopher Brito.
The way that this specimen was preserved indicates more of its bones could still be uncovered, and the scientists plan to continue excavations next year, per CBS.
In the meantime, researchers are going to take the newly uncovered fossilized bones to a laboratory, where they will remove sediments, document the finds and prepare them for future study and display in a museum, Malafaia tells Newsweek’s Robyn White.
Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland who wasn’t involved in the project, tells CNN’s Hafsa Khalil the find is “gobsmacking—a dinosaur ribcage sticking out of somebody’s garden… [It goes to show] you can potentially find them anywhere there is rock of the right age and right type for preserving Jurassic-aged bones, whether it’s in the badlands or someone’s backyard.”