21 May 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

The largest marine turtle fossil of its kind ever discovered in Europe unearthed in Spain

In northern Spain, scientists discovered the remains of a new species of enormous marine turtle. The prehistoric creature is the biggest of its kind ever found in Europe, weighing about two tons and measuring 12 feet long.

The turtle sailed the subtropical sea that swept through Europe’s island coast 83 million years ago. The size is comparable to that of a Mini Cooper. The largest turtle alive today, the gubernatorial turtle, which is 7 feet (2 meters) long and famous for its protracted sea migration, is dwarfed by that size.

Scientists described the turtle, which they named Leviathanochelys aenigmatica, in a paper published in Scientific Reports. “Leviathan” is a nod to the animal’s large body size, and “chelys” means turtle. “Aenigmatica” translates to enigma—in reference to some of the creature’s strange characteristics, the authors write.

Leviathanochelys nearly matched the largest turtle on record – Archelon, which lived roughly 70 million years ago and reached about 4.6 meters long.

“Leviathanochelys was as long as a Mini Cooper while Archelon was the same size as a Toyota Corolla,” said paleontologist and study co-author Albert Selles of the Institut Catala de Paleontologia (ICP), a research center affiliated with Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

The excavation site where fossils of the large Cretaceous Period sea turtle Leviathanochelys aenigmatica were discovered in Catalonia Alt Urgell county, northeastern Spain.
The excavation site where fossils of the large Cretaceous Period sea turtle Leviathanochelys aenigmatica were discovered in Catalonia Alt Urgell county, northeastern Spain.

The discovery was entirely by chance: a hiker discovered some bone fragments while walking in the Pyrenees mountains, writes James Ashworth for London’s Natural History Museum. After that, the remains were collected by a local museum and the Catalan Department of Culture, but no one studied them until 2021. Researchers began new excavations at the Pyrenees site and uncovered fragments of the turtle’s pelvis and carapace—the part of the shell that covers the creature’s back.

Fossil shows that it has a fine kakapas similar to a seaguide, with its own shell 7.7 feet (2.35 meters) long and 7.2 feet (2.2 meters wide). Leviathanochelys appears built for the open ocean, returning to land only rarely – for instance to lay eggs.

The presence of a pair of bone bulges on the front side of the pelvic differs from that of other known sea turtles, suggesting that. This shows that sea turtle gigantisme is developing independently in a separate Cretaceous lineage in North America and Europe.

“During the Cretaceous, there was a tendency in marine turtles to increase their body size. Leviathanochelys and Archelon might represent the apex of this process. The reason for this increase in body size has been hypothesized to be predatory pressures, but there might be other factors,” said Oscar Castillo, a student in a master’s degree program in paleontology at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and lead author of the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The presence of a couple of bony bulges on the front side of the pelvis differs from any other known sea turtle, indicating that Leviathanochelys represents a newly discovered lineage. It shows that gigantism in marine turtles developed independently in separate Cretaceous lineages in North America and Europe.

Cover Photo: Illustration of sea turtles. (Wikimedia Commons/Jordan Beard)

Related Articles

1,300-year-old shipwreck found in southwest France

19 June 2022

19 June 2022

Archeologists in France have discovered the wreck of a ship that navigated the Garonne river in southwestern France in the...

Synchrotron Technique Reveals Mysterious Portrait Underneath Renaissance Painting

16 April 2023

16 April 2023

Conservators and curators from the Art Gallery of New South Wales used the Australian Synchrotron’s advanced imaging technique to learn...

1,800-year-old wooden mask likely used in farm festivals found in Japan

25 April 2023

25 April 2023

Archaeologists have unearthed an almost perfectly preserved wooden mask from the early third century at the Nishi-Iwata ruins in Osaka...

6000-Year-Old Salt Production House Rewrites Europe’s History

31 March 2021

31 March 2021

Archaeologists in the UK have found an ancient stone age-era salt-production house in North Yorkshire, estimated to be older even...

A 2,000-year-old whistle was found in a child’s grave in the ruins of Assos, Turkey

18 October 2022

18 October 2022

A terracotta whistle believed to be 2,000 years old from the Roman era and placed as a gift in a...

Stunning carved stone depicting a mystery naked horseman is discovered at the Roman fort of Vindolanda

30 June 2021

30 June 2021

Near Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, archaeologists discovered a carved sandstone slab portraying a naked horseman. During the annual excavations...

Enigmas Roman Dodecahedron Uncovered by Amateur Archaeologists in the UK

24 January 2024

24 January 2024

Amateur archaeologists have unearthed a striking Roman dodecahedron in the serene countryside of Norton Disney, England, a mysterious class of...

God Vishnumurthy Statue Found in a Well in Karnataka

28 February 2021

28 February 2021

A statue of the god Vishnumurthy dumped into a well was found near a destroyed Udupi temple in the state...

Artifacts used for ancient magic rituals discovered on Darb al-Hajj route from Cairo to Mecca

11 September 2023

11 September 2023

The artifacts, found in the 1990s on the ancient Darb al-Hajj route from Cairo to Mecca, may have been in...

Artifacts for sale offered at a Dutch auction house returned to Peru

9 July 2021

9 July 2021

The Dutch government announced in a press release today that the artifacts that were put up for sale at an...

An Ancient Large Clay Vessel “Hum” 1.75 Meters High Unearthed in Kyrgyzstan

9 March 2024

9 March 2024

During recent archaeological excavations in the town of Uzgen in the Osh province of Kyrgyzstan, a 1.75-meter-high clay vessel known...

Ancient settlements that challenge traditional thinking “Karahantepe and Taş Tepeler”

5 December 2021

5 December 2021

After Göbeklitepe in Şanlıurfa, which sheds light on 12,000 years ago in human history and is considered one of the...

New evidence suggests Indonesia’s Gunung Padang could be world’s oldest known pyramid

21 November 2023

21 November 2023

Gunung Padang, a  colossal megalithic structure nestled in the lush landscapes of West Java, Indonesia, could be the world’s oldest...

Contemporaneous with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia the Indus Valley Civilization city of ‘Mohenjo Daro’: Skilled urban planners with a reverence for the control of water

10 September 2022

10 September 2022

The Indus River Valley (or Harappan) civilization (3300-1300 BCE) lasted 2,000 years and spanned northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest...

A coin of Queen Fastrada and Charlemagne found – First of its kind

8 May 2023

8 May 2023

A coin purchased by the Charlemagne Center in Aachen, Germany, bears the name of Queen Fastrada. This is the first...