About two decades ago my grandson was totally “into” dinosaurs, as were most of his friends and contemporaries. He knew the names and specifics of most examples of those prehistoric creatures. Yet neither of us recalls ever having heard of the Magyarosaurus which, for all we know, might have been the household pet or work animal of our very distant ancestors. (Remember the Flintstones?)
The first fossils of that lizard were discovered by Baron Franz Nopcsa, a Transylvanian paleontologist in 1895, at Szentpéterfalva (today: Sanpetru), in Hunyad (today: Hunedoara) County. He named it Titanosaurus dacus; a peculiar choice since our dinosaur was one of the smallest among its relatives and was anything but titanic. Its maximal length was only six meters (c. 20 feet) and height of 1.5 meters (c. 5 feet), weighing about 1,000 kilograms (c. 2,200 pounds). They were herbivores and lived roughly 70 million years ago, give or take a few million.
It may also seem odd that a dinosaur from Romania honors Hungarians, but Hátszeg (today: Hatzeg), also in the Hunyad area, became Western Romania after the Treaty of Trianon, but it still belonged to Hungary when Magyarosaurus was found there in 1915 and was named at that time. The species’ epithet was to honor the ancient Dacians of that territory.
The islands the Magyarosaurus inhabited led to its insular dwarfism as a result of selective pressures presented by limited food supplies and a lack of predators. All these conditions favored a smaller body size. Nopcsa was the first to suggest this theory. Some later researchers doubted his conclusions, claiming that the known fossil represented juveniles. However, 21st century detailed studies supported Nopcsa’s hypothesis, showing that the small Magyarosaurus individuals were adults. (It was an early realization that good things come in small packages!)
In 2001, some eggs attributed to the Magyarosaurus were uncovered, with embryos preserved inside the eggs. (A significantly more convenient way to produce offspring than giving birth to live young.)
To spare the reader pages of very technical archeological and paleobiological data, I close this article hoping that the information herein fosters pride in you for sharing a national kinship with some fascinating ancient creatures.
Olga Vállay Szokolay is an architect and Professor Emerita of Norwalk Community College, CT after three decades of teaching. She is a member of the Editorial Board of Magyar News Online