Jörn Harald Hurum from the University of Oslo's Natural History Museum seems to have all the luck. Last year he made headlines around the world when the team he leads dug up a gigantic sea predator on the Arctic island of Spitzbergen. Hurum proudly announced the dinosaur, claiming that it was as long as a bus and had teeth the size of kitchen knives.
Now he and his team have found another dinosaur at the same spot on Spitzbergen where they found the previous one. And the second find throws the original find in a completely new light.
Hurum and his colleagues are working under the assumption that both specimens belong to a species unknown to science. "There are enough differences to previous finds to be able to say that," Hurum told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Until now, the researchers had presumed that the dinosaur they'd found was related to the Pliosaurus, a sea reptile that was probably over 10 meters (33 feet) long and weighed between 10 and 15 metric tonnes. Remains of this giant, swimming hunter - often called the "Tyrannosaurus of the Sea" -- had already been found in France and the UK.
Hurum believes that the structures in the shoulder girdle of the skeleton found on Spitzbergen look different from those of the previously known species. It will be awhile before these things can be further examined, as the preservation work will not be finished for a long time. When Hurum speaks about preservation, he is referring to the skeleton from last summer, as the specimen discovered this year has yet to be retrieved. The palaeontologists hope to make progress on that this coming summer, but for now the excavation site remains lost in the dark polar nights.
In the meantime, palaeontology students in the basement of the Natural History Museum are putting the first dinosaur together like a giant puzzle. This year Hurum is invited to a palaeontology congress where he would like to impress the delegates with a spectacular exhibit.
Spitzbergen, which belongs to Norway, continues to be source of impressive fossil finds. When the Pliosaurus lived around 150 million years ago, the area was completely underwater -- and in a completely different part of the globe. Spitzbergen -- and, in fact, the whole of the Svalbard archipelago -- has been touring the world for a long time.
The area has drifted around 15,000 kilometres in a period of 600 million years. The islands have wandered from the South Pole to almost the North Pole at a rate of 2.5 centimetres (one inch) per year. Rock formations, plants and animal fossils from that time can be found in many places on the island providing a boon for interested -- and lucky -- scientists like Hurum.