The 10 Most Important Dinosaurs of Europe

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From Archaeopteryx to Plateosaurus, These Dinosaurs Ruled Mesozoic Europe

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Europe, especially England and Germany, was the birthplace of modern paleontology--but ironically, compared to other continents, its dinosaur pickings from the Mesozoic Era have been rather slim. On the following slides, you'll discover the 10 most important dinosaurs of Europe, ranging from Archaeopteryx to Plateosaurus.

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Emily Willoughby

Some people who should know better still insist that Archaeopteryx was the first true bird, but in fact it was much closer to the dinosaur end of the evolutionary spectrum. However you choose to classify it, Archaeopteryx has weathered the past 150  million years exceptionally well; about a dozen near-complete skeletons have been excavated from Germany's Solnhofen fossil beds, shedding much-needed light on the evolution of feathered dinosaurs. See 10 Facts About Archaeopteryx

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Sergey Krasovskiy

One of the more recently discovered dinosaurs in the European bestiary, Balaur is a case study in adaptation: restricted to an island habitat, this raptor evolved a thick, stocky, powerful build and two (rather than one) oversized claws on each of its hind feet. Balaur's low center of gravity may have enabled it to gang up (albeit slowly) on the comparably sized hadrosaurs of its home island, which were also more petite than the norm elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world.

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When its type fossil was discovered in England in 1983, Baryonyx created a sensation: with its long, narrow, crocodile-like snout and oversized claws, this large theropod clearly subsisted on fish rather than on its fellow reptiles. Paleontologists later determined that Baryonyx was closely related to the much larger "spinosaurid" theropods of Africa and South America, including Spinosaurus (the biggest meat-eating dinosaur that ever lived) and the allusively named Irritator. 

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Nobu Tamura

You can chalk up Cetiosaurus' odd name--Greek for "whale lizard"--to the confusion of early British paleontologists, who had yet to appreciate the enormous sizes attained by sauropod dinosaurs and assumed they were dealing with fossilized whales or crocodiles. Cetiosaurus is important because it dates from the middle, rather than late, Jurassic period, and thus predated more famous sauropods (like Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus) by 10 or 20 million years.

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Discovered in Germany in the mid 19th century, the chicken-sized Compsognathus was famous for decades as the "world's smallest dinosaur," comparable in size only to the distantly related Archaeopteryx (with which it shared the same fossil beds). Today, the place of Compsognathus in the dinosaur record books has been supplanted by earlier, and smaller, theropods from China and South America, most notably the two-pound Microraptor. See 10 Facts About Compsognathus

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Gerhard Boeggeman

The average EU resident may or may not be proud to know that Europasaurus was one of the smallest sauropods ever to roam the earth, measuring only about 10 feet from head to tail and weighing no more than a single ton (compared to 50 or 100 tons for the largest members of the breed). The small size of Europasaurus can be chalked up to its small, resource-starved island habitat, an example of "insular dwarfism" comparable to Balaur (see slide #3).

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No dinosaur in history has caused as much confusion as Iguanodon, the fossilized thumb of which was discovered in England way back in 1822 (by the early naturalist Gideon Mantell). Only the second dinosaur ever to receive a name, after Megalosaurus (see next slide), Iguanodon wasn't fully understood by paleontologists for at least a century after its discovery, by which time many other, similar-looking ornithopods had been incorrectly assigned to its genus. See 10 Facts About Iguanodon

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Today, paleontologists can appreciate the diversity of large theropods that lived during the Mesozoic Era--but not so their 19th-century counterparts. For decades after it was named, Megalosaurus was the go-to genus for just about any carnivorous dinosaur possessing long legs and large teeth, generating a vast amount of confusion that the experts are still sorting out today (as various Megalosaurus "species" are either downgraded or reassigned to their own genera). See 10 Facts About Megalosaurus

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Sergey Krasovskiy

Until the discovery of Neovenator, in 1978, Europe couldn't claim much in the way of native meat-eaters: Allosaurus (some offshoots of which resided in Europe) was considered more of a North American dinosaur, and Megalosaurus (see previous slide) was poorly understood and comprised a bewildering number of species. Though it only weighed about half a ton, and is technically classified as an "allosaurid" theropod, at least Neovenator is European through and through!

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The most famous prosauropod of western Europe, Plateosaurus was a moderately sized, long-necked plant eater (and occasional omnivore) that traveled in herds, grasping the leaves of trees with its long, flexible and partially opposable thumbs. Like other dinosaurs of its kind, the late Triassic Plateosaurus was distantly ancestral to the giant sauropods and titanosaurs that spread across the globe, including Europe, during the ensuing Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. 

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Your Citation
Strauss, Bob. "The 10 Most Important Dinosaurs of Europe." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Strauss, Bob. (2023, April 5). The 10 Most Important Dinosaurs of Europe. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "The 10 Most Important Dinosaurs of Europe." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).