Giraffatitan (Giraffe titan)
Giraffatitan (Giraffe titan)
Named By : Gregory S. Paul - 1988
Diet : Herbivore
Size : Estimated 23 – 26 meters long
Type of Dinosaur : Sauropod
Type Species : G. brancai (type)
Found in : Africa, Tanzania - Tendaguru Formation
When it Lived : Late Jurassic, 154-142 million years ago
Giraffatitan (name meaning “titanic giraffe”) is a genus of sauropod dinosaur that lived during the late Jurassic Period (Kimmeridgian-Tithonian stages) in what is now Tanzania. It was initially named B. brancai, an African Brachiosaurus species. However, it has been moved to its own genera. Giraffatitan was once the world’s largest dinosaur. However, recent discoveries of larger dinosaurs have shown that giant titanosaurians may have outweighed Giraffatitan in terms a sheer mass. The sauropod dinosaur Sauroposeidon, which is also taller than Giraffatitan, may be even heavier.
The Giraffatitan specimen HMN SII is used to estimate the size of Giraffatitan. It is a subadult Giraffatitan measuring between 21.8 and 22.25 metres (72-74 ft), and approximately 12 meters (39 ft). Although mass estimates can vary from 15 to 17 tonnes (17 short tons) up to 78.3 tons (86.3 short tons), there is evidence that these animals can grow larger. For example, specimen HMN XV2, which has a fibula 13% larger then the material on HMN SII might have reached 26 meters (85 ft).
Bernhard Wilhelm Sattler was a mining engineer and spotted a huge bone sticking out of the ground near Lindi in 1906. This was what was then German East Africa. It is now Tanzania. His superior Wilhelm Arning, Hannover, received a report about the discovery in early 1907. Arning informed again the Kommission fur die Landskundliche Erforschung des Schutzgebiete. This Berlin-based commission oversees the geographic investigation of German protectorates. Berhard Dernburg (German secretary of state of colonies), accompanied by Heinrich Otto, visited German East Africa at that time. Otto invited Professor Eberhard Fraas, a paleontologist, to be his scientific advisor. Fraas had been travelling the colony for several months in the summer 1907. Dr Hans Meyer from Leipzig wrote a letter urging him to investigate Sattler’s discovery. Fraas arrived in Lindi, a coastal town, by steamer on 30 August. He marched five days to reach the Tendaguru where he was able to confirm that the bones were dinosaurian and authentic. Soon, Sattler was joined by a group of native miners. They discovered two large sauropod bones that were then transported to Germany. These would eventually become the holotypes for the genera Tornieria & Janenschia.
Fraas noticed that Tendaguru’s layers were extremely rich in fossils. He tried to raise enough funds to fund a major expedition after his return to Germany. He managed to attract the interest of Professor Wilhelm von Branca, the head of the Geologisch-Palaontologische Institut und Museum der Konigliche Friedrich-Wilhelm Universitat zu Berlin. Von Branca believed it was a matter German national pride for such a project to succeed. He enlisted the help of David von Hansemann, a well-connected pathologist. Johann Albrecht, duke of Mecklenburg, was the head of the Tendaguru Committee that Von Hansemann established. It was soon fashionable to join this committee, which included a number of distinguished German scientists and industrialists. Numerous of their wealthy friends contributed substantial sums. Von Branca sent Werner Janensch (one of his curators) and Edwin Hennig (one of his assistants) to lead the expedition. Both men arrived at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on April 2, 1909.
Due to the threat posed by the tse-tse fly, the expedition employed 160 native porters. About 100 paleontological quarries were discovered during four field seasons (1909, 1910 and 1911, respectively) German fossil material was shipped in large quantities. It was soon discovered that other than Janenschia and Tornieria, layers contained many other sauropods. The Dicraeosaurus of medium size, which is a fairly common find, was one. Giraffatitan, a massive form that was far more common than the others, is even rarer. Site D, a quarry containing Giraffatitan material, was opened in June 1909 and is located approximately one kilometre northeastern of Tendaguru Hill. It had a fairly complete skeleton for a medium-sized person, but it was missing the neck, hands, and skull. It contained a series of 29 tail vertebrae that were articulated. On a surface area of twenty-two metres, the bones were found in close proximity. Site IX, located at 1.4 km northeast of Tendaguru Hill was opened on 17th August 1909. Two Giraffatitan legbones were also found among the 150 disarticulated dinosaur bones. Next Giraffatitan quarry, “Site N”, was located nine hundred metres east from the Tendaguru Hill. It was excavated in September 1909. It contained a single disarticulated skull with a back and tail vertebras, ribs, and a scapula. A possible scapula was found, as well as a humerus and two ischia. There were also a few unidentified bones.
Site S, located one kilometre southwest from the hill, is the most important source for Giraffatitan fossils. Excavations began on the 11th of October 1909, and continued into 1912. Excavations began on October 11, 1909 and continued well into 1912. A cut bank of Kitukituki was gradually dredged, removing high overburden. A high wooden frame was used to cover the walls of the quarry, which prevented them from falling apart. In that year, several ribs and then the entire vertebral column were discovered. A skull and lower jaws were found close to the neck vertebrae in October. More neck and trunk vertebrae have been discovered since 5 June 1912. Initial thought was that only one skeleton was being discovered. Janensch discovered that there were actually two skeletons. Skelett SI consisted of a skull, six neck and some back vertebrae. Skelett SII was bigger, but it was still subadult. It contained skull bones, eleven neck and eleven back vertebrae as well as ribs, the left sidecapula, both forelimbs and pubic bones. Due to recent erosion, the sacrum and tail were lost. It was found upright with vertical limbs. This could be explained by it becoming engulfed in mud.
“Site ab”, located 1.2 kilometres northeast from the hill, was discovered in October 1909. Two Giraffatitan legbones and disarticulated remains from many sauropods were also found. The huge possible humerus of the Giraffatitan was too badly damaged to be saved. “Site cc”, located 2.9 km northeast of the hill, contained an unreconstructed Giraffatitan Skelet, including neck vertebrae, trunk vertebrae, spines, ribs and a humerus. Another Giraffatitan quarry, Site Y, was opened at 3.1 kilometres North of Tendaguru Hill in 1910. It included the skeleton for a medium-sized person, including a braincase and eight neck vertebrae.
These are only some of the important places where Giraffatitan bone were discovered. There were also many other Tendaguru sites where large single sauropod bone finds. These bones were referred to in Janensch’s publications, but no field notes survived so the exact circumstances of the discoveries cannot be determined. This is partly due to the lack of systematic documentation from the expedition. A 1943 allied bombardment destroyed many documents. Some fossils were also destroyed. However, the majority of the skeleton remains intact.
German paleontologist Werner Janensch first described Giraffatitan Brancai in 1914. He used several specimens from the Tendaguru formation between 1909-1912 to name it. It is found in five partial skulls, three skulls, and many fragmentary remains, including some skull material and vertebrae. It lived between 145 and 150 million years ago during the Kimmeridgian-Tithonian ages in the Late Jurassic period.
The famous Giraffatitan brancai specimen that was mounted in Berlin’s Natural History Museum is the Guinness Book of Records certified it to be one of the biggest and tallest mounted skeletons. Werner Janensch discovered many more G. brancai species in Tanzania, Africa in 1909 and used them to make the composite mounted skull we see today.