Research history

For a long time, both Hungarian and foreign researchers were intrigued by the question why the remains of vertebrate animals have not been found more frequently in the Mesozoic of Hungary. A rich, Late Cretaceous continental vertebrate assemblage has been known since the end of the 19th century from historical Hungary, from the Haţeg Basin in Transylvania. Their research was started by the world famous (and tragic fated) baron Ferenc Nopcsa and presently it is continued with renewed efforts by Romanian and Hungarian collegues.

Franz Baron Nopcsa as a young man
Franz Baron Nopcsa as a young man
The holotype skull of Triassic Placochelys placodonta (photo: István Főzy)
The holotype skull of Triassic Placochelys placodonta (photo: István Főzy)
Reconstruction of the Triassic Placochelys placodonta
Reconstruction of the Triassic Placochelys placodonta

However, from the territory of present Hungary the remains of Mesozoic continental vertebrates were almost unknown for a long time. This is partially due to the fact that mainly marine sediments were deposited in the Mesozoic in the area of the country. A few scarce findings have been known from Mesozoic rocks, however these are almost exclusively the remains of marine vertebrates. The most famous are probably the remains of Placochelys placodonta, found in Upper Triassic strata of the Jerusalem Hill in the town of Veszprém, discovered by the teacher Dezső Laczkó in 1899, and 1900.

The locality of the „Gerecse crocodile” Steneosaurus (left); life reconstruction of Steneosaurus
The locality of the „Gerecse crocodile” Steneosaurus (left); life reconstruction of Steneosaurus

A fragmentary but associated skeleton of a marine crocodile was found by Attila Fitos and his fellows in 1996 in an abandoned quarry of the Pisznice Hill in the Gerecse Mts. Preliminary studies have indicated that this marine-adapted crocodile belonged to the Steneosaurus-like crocodilians and its total body length could have been between 5.8 and 6.5 meters.

The first footprints in Hungary referred to dinosaurs were found by geologist György Wein in 1966 in the coal mines of the Mecsek Mts. He found footprints which were later described by paleontologist László Kordos in 1983 as Komlosaurus carbonis. In 1988 geologist students and their professors participating a field trip found complete associated trackways of similar prints. They systematically collected these tracks (one of these trackways is exhibited in the Southern Building of the Eötvös University Faculty of Science, while another one is displayed in the Vanished Worlds exhibition of the Hungarian Natural History Museum). However, the bones of Komlosaurus have never been found.

Footprints of the Early Jurassic Komlosaurus carbonis from the Mecsek Mountains
Footprints of the Early Jurassic Komlosaurus carbonis from the Mecsek Mountains

Until 2000, practically no rich continental vertebrate localities were known from the Mesozoic of present Hungary. In the Spring of 2000, after a long preliminary acquisition of information and research, we turned our attention to some Upper Cretaceous fluvial sediments known as Csehbánya Formation, which were exposed with a thickness of about 60 meters in the large bauxite open-pits formed by the mining of Németbánya II and III bauxite lenses at Iharkút. In the northern part of the mine, while documenting stratigraphy, the first vertebrate remains were found in a sandstone bed seven meters from the surface. This site yielded, besides other remains, the first body fossils of dinosaurs from Hungary. The first finds were soon followed by others, and the upcoming years, complemented by many smaller field trips, research camps lasting several weeks and composed of 15-20 people have been organized regularly, during which associated skeletons and several thousands of isolated bones have been found.

Tracksite map of Komlosaurus
Tracksite map of Komlosaurus
Reconstruction of the Early Jurassic Komlosaurus carbonis
Reconstruction of the Early Jurassic Komlosaurus carbonis
The first site ever discovered in Iharkút
The first site ever discovered in Iharkút

Based on the collected remains, at least 30 different vertebrate species were discovered, including fishes, amphibians, turtles, lizards, crocodiles, dinosaurs, pterosaurs and birds. Besides vertebrate fossils, a lot of finds evidence the ancient vegetation and invertebrate life. These are the remains of clams and snails, carbonized tree trunks, leaf imprints, fossilized seeds, pollen, and amber grains with a large variety of enclosed arthropods. Their study is necessary to map and reconstruct the 85 million year old world in which, among others, the dinosaurs of the Bakony lived.

Large-scaled excavations are organized in Iharkút since 2001
Large-scaled excavations are organized in Iharkút since 2001
Time scale with the age of Mecsek dinosaur footprints and that of the Iharkút dinosaurs
Time scale with the age of Mecsek dinosaur footprints and that of the Iharkút dinosaurs

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