Monthly Archives: December 2023

Couple of photos from the November 28 seminar in La Plata: Colecciones cientificas en movimiento

Mariano Bonomo (CONICET- División de Arqueología, Museo de La Plata): “From French Prehistory to La Plata Museum”.Credit photo to Marina Sardi

Frank Laurent (Université du Mans, Francia): “Between science and art, philosophy and poetry: Roger Caillois and his floating collections.Credit photo to Marina Sardi

José Pardo- Tomás (CSIC Barcelona, España):  “Aimé Bonpland as a farm entrepreneur. Uses and destinations of its botanical collections”. Credit photo to Marina Sardi

Nathalie Richard (Université du Mans, Francia): “”CL” About a tag and specimens on the move”.Credit photo to Marina Sardi

South American megafauna in Spanish collections on the move

By Richard Farina

Hidden treasures of facts patiently waiting for hypotheses to corroborate or reject, those extinct giant mammals that mostly lived in the wide plains of southern South America travelled across the ocean to be housed in Spain. In our secondment of the Northern hemisphere springtime, we found them again, this time not surrounded by sediments but comfortably lying on shelves or fully exhibited as the wonder they were.

Please see below the commented and illustrated list of quite a few relevant remains.

Collection Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona

Only three pieces were found in the Ciutat Comtal:

1) fragments of the carapace of the armoured xenarthran Glyptodon (Fig. 1), collected in Santa Cruz, southern Argentina.

Fig. 1: Glyptodon carapace fragment  (Photo: Vicent Video).

2) One tooth of the mighty Toxodon (Fig. 2) one of the very few last heirs of the once diverse group called Notoungulata and the same animal that was so inspirational for Darwin himself (Fariña et al. 2013). Its label also claims it comes from Santa Cruz.

Fig. 2: Toxodon tooth  (Photo: Vicent Video).

3) One tooth of a fossil horse (Fig. 3), those that roamed the vast pampas until their demise at the end of the Plesitocene one hundred centuries ago, i.e., long before the domestic species was introduced by the Spaniards. Originally numbered as 1146 in Baltasar Serradell collection, its place of finding is only referred as “Era Cenozoica Río de la Plata”.

Fig. 3: Fossil horse tooth (Photo: Vicent Video).

Collection National Museum of Natural Sciences of Madrid

As already known by us and many, many others, our catch in the Villa y Corte was bigger. Actually, it was enormous, like the great beast collected in Luján, nowadays Argentina and then the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata when the Double Crown of Spain and “Indias” (a small misnaming that would deserve a post by itself) ruled those territories (see Ramírez Rozzi and Podgorny, 2001,for a complete survey on these and other matters).

1) The Megatherium from Luján

Shortly after the French Revolution, this giant and charismatic ground sloth (Fig. 4) was the first fossil vertebrate to be found as such, to be studied and to be exhibited (Fariña et al. 2013) as far back in time as before the ending of the 18th century. Apart from Cuvier (1796), who identified and described this giant sloth in the first paper on fossil vertebrates (thus founding vertebrate palaeontology), other important personalities were involved in that process. Notably, prior to Cuvier’s documentation of this specimen, it had been dispatched to the Real Gabinete de Historia Natural in Madrid. There, Juan Bautista Bru de Ramón (1784–1786), affiliated with the museum in a rôle that today we would call conservator, undertook its preparation (Simpson 1984). Additionally, Bru not only mounted the skeleton but also depicted it in a lifelike posture, marking the first instance of such presentation for a fossilized skeleton (Fig. 5). Even though current reconstructions differ in the interpretation of the posture of this animal (Fig. 4), Bru’s efforts were very remarkable.

Fig. 4: Mounted Megatherium skeleton at Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Valencia (Photo: Martín Batallés).

Fig. 5: First mounted Megatherium skeleton by Juan Bautista Bru de Ramón at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales de Madrid (Photo: Martín Batallés).

Active in many aspects of Uruguay’s early history and even before the independence of the country, the presbyterian Dámaso Larrañaga (1771–1848) was also among the first naturalists born in South America and authored a This fossil material, including a femur, carapace fragments, and a caudal tube, was assigned to “Dasypus (Megatherium Cuv.)” by Larrañaga in his largely unpublished Diario de Historia Natural and was included as such in Cuvier’s (1824) second edition of Recherches.

2) The glyptodont osteoderms

But why were the remains classified in the genus of the nine-banded armadillo? The answer is simple; the material belonging to Megatherium was delivered to Cuvier along with some carapace scutes and even a caudal tube of a glyptodont as if they were from the same individual. Thus, le Baron assumed the giant sloths, correctly judged to be a xenarthran, was also armoured. We interpreted other material we found in the collection as those very osteoderms that obscured the correct assignment of those wise men of old (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6: Glyptodon carapace scutes (Photo: Martín Batallés).

3) Other South American fossils

Among other beauties, a proboscidean molar boasted a very nice label (Fig. 7) that proclaimed its origin with certain vagueness (“América del Sur”) and the collector (I. Lobo). Also, a much modern and a bit mysterious collection was acquired rather recently from a Dr. Feldman from Uruguay (Fig 8). It contains more than one hundred elements which surprisingly seem to come from southern Brazil.

Fig. 7: Proboscidean molar and label (Photo: Martín Batallés).

Fig. 8:  Pinniped hemimandible from Feldman collection (Photo: Martín Batallés).

Museo Geominero de Madrid Collection

Remains of armoured xenarthrans (glyptodonts and armadillos, whose carapace form has been highlighted in another post: Fariña et al. 2023) were also present in this traditional institution. Various osteoderms of different species were observed (Fig 9).

In the exhibition, a carapace of the smaller Neosclerocalyptus is shown (Fig. 10). Despite being incomplete, its value can be appreciated beyond the crystal case designed to protect it.

Fig. 9: Osteoderms of of armoured xenarthrans (Photo: Museo Geominero de Madrid).

Fig. 10: Neosclerocalyptus carapace (Photo: Martín Batallés).

Valencia Natural Sciences Museum Collection

The Botet Collection, due to the tireless endeavour of José R. Botet, an engineer that worked on the port of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century (Boscá 1899), keeps endless interesting fossils, especially from Argentina (Fig. 11, 12, 13, 14,15 and 16). We are bound to be brief not because of scarcity but, on the contrary, because the abundance is overwhelming, both in the collection and in the exhibits, which in general were poorly identified, with names that were no longer valid. In other words, a source of future delightful work we intend to undertake there.

Among the remains numbered by the thousand, we selected a few pieces just to show the appeal of this assemblage of South American fossils.

Fig. 11: Sloth skull (Photo: Martín Batallés).

Fig. 12: Label “hypertrophy” (Photo: Martín Batallés).

Fig. 13: Smilodon femur (Photo: Martín Batallés).

Fig. 14: Label “Glossotherium debilis” (Photo: Martín Batallés).

Fig. 15: Megatherium “gallardoi”  (Photo: Martín Batallés).

Fig. 16: Scelidotherium skeleton at the exhibition (Photo: Martín Batallés).


Boscá Casanoves, E. 1899. Noticias sobre una colección paleontológica regalada al Excmo. Ayuntamiento de Valencia. Anales de la Sociedad Española de Historia Natural (Actas), 28 82-90.

Cuvier G. 1796. Notice sur de squelette d’une très grande espèce de quadrupède inconnue jusqu’à présent, trouvé au Paraguay, et déposé au Cabinet d’Histoire Naturelle de Madrid. Magasin encyclopédique, ou Journal des Sciences, des Lettres et des Arts 2(1):303-310.

Fariña RA, Vizcaíno SF, De Iuliis G. 2013. Megafauna. Giant Beasts of Pleistocene South America. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 416 pp. ISBN: 978-0-253-00230-3.

Fariña RA, Batallés M, Varela L, Tambusso PS. 2023. Barcelona: armoured Xenarthrans and catenaries.

Salinas Jaques, M. A. 2005. Las hipótesis de Eduardo Boscá sobre la alimentación del megaterio y el montaje del ejemplar de la Colección Rodrigo Botet (1902-1928). Revista Española de Paleontología N.E. X, 111-118. ISSN 0213-6937.