Theropod Thursday 19: the mysterious “Frickopod”

The Sauriermuseum Frick in Frick, Switzerland, exists because of the Tongrube Keller in Frick is one of the three localities in Europe yielding large numbers of skeletons of Plateosaurus. I’ll show you some of the finds at the end of this post. But although Plateosaurus was an obligate saurischian biped, it’s most certainly not a theropod, and thus not suitable for Theropod Thursday. However, finding a theropod in the Saurier-layers of Frick is extremely unlikely, as it seems to be almost the same depositional environment as in the other two huge Plateosaurus localities – which aside from plateosaurs yielded only a few small teeth and a handful of turtles. Imagine my surprise when I came to Frick a few years back during the field trip of the Stegosaur Meeting organized by the Sauriermuseum Aathal and found myself face to – erh, can’t really say face to face, the little thing was headless! So I found myself face to bones with a small theropod.

Bonus points if you recognize the gentleman in the background.

The reverse side of the block is also interesting, and in the third picture there are more (useless) bonus points to be earned:

I’m sorry for the less-than-ideal photo quality. There was a lot of getting-into-each-other’s-way and firing-flashes-at-the-glass-cabinet going on around the little fossil.

So is this a sensational (and sensationally derived) theropod from the Upper Triassic? Sadly, the answer is no! Check out the profile of the clay pit from which the material comes on the Sauriermuseum Frick homepage (German only, sorry, their English website is rather rudimentary).

stolen from Sauriermuseum Frick homepage; link as in text above.

The Plateosaurus skeletons come from where there is a skeleton sketched into the profile, but the little theropod is from just above the Arietenkalk, AFAIK, thus from the lower Jurassic. That’s still an interesting and quite sensational find, even headless, but not quite the whopper it would have been from further down.

Here’s a picture I took during the same field trip from the top of the pit. The Plateosaurus layer is exposed at the bottom right, where you can just about make out an ongoing excavation above the red marls. The theropod comes from very near to where the young lady is sitting (again, bonus points if you recognize her or the colleague on the left).

So, there it is: a small, gracile theropod known from a partial articulated skeleton from a marine sediment, from the Lower Jurassic of Switzerland. Neat!

But wait, it gets better still! A short time ago I met Ben Pabst, the splendid brain and muscle behind the ongoing Frick excavations, as well as the preparator of much of the material. And Ben had news…….

Check out the articulation of the theropod. It’s partial, but not because the bones were ripped apart or drifted away one by one, but because (*cry*) a machine in the quarry ripped parts away. The ribs are articulated, as are the digits, with all phalanges neatly in place! When Ben saw this he had hopes that more parts of the skeleton could be found, likely parts of the tail, based on the position of the find in the field. However, the find was practically under a road in the quarry, and because the Tonwerke Keller do not wish to loose money they are understandably not very willing to do some major re-building of roads in their quarries at inopportune times just to facilitate a palaeontological wild goose chase. So Ben bid his time, knowing that one day that part of the quarry would be worked on again, and the dirt road torn away. And a short while ago, he indeed could recover more of the skeleton.

And recover more of the skeleton he did: the complete skull! Yay! Now we just have to wait until Swiss scientists have completed their ongoing work and publish a description. I won’t say anything about the skull or the affinities of the critter, except that it is a very well preserved skull.

To round off the post here’s another photo from the quarry and some Plateosaurus pics.

This is not my fault!

oh, lots of bonus points to be had here! If you can tear your eyes away from Plateosaurus engelhardti MSF 23, that is!

There, more Plateosaurus pics than theropod pics in this post – I feel better already!

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About Heinrich Mallison

I'm a dinosaur biomech guy working at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.
This entry was posted in "Prosauropoda", Dinopics, Dinosauria, Plateosaurus, Sauropodomorpha, Theropoda. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Theropod Thursday 19: the mysterious “Frickopod”

  1. Mickey Mortimer says:

    You don’t need a skull to see that’s coelophysoid-grade. Are there any abstracts or published announcements about this?

  2. saurian says:

    Great post Heinrich. The great dichotemy of the working quarry in a nutshell – you need the machinery to uncover the specimens – but only just. Sometimes you’re lucky and other times you come across the debris of what would have been a great find. Still there are countless specimens all over the world that would not have seen the light of day unless there were these working quarries and this little guy is quite a sensational find.

    • As Jack Horner once wrote: “I even have a soft spot fro strip mining, because it exposes so much rock”.
      These days, with every road embankment concreted up and all the small local quarries closed, filled-in or overgrown and protected as habitat there are very few fossils found in Central Europe. It used to be that Tübingen professors would go for a walk and find dinosaurs – no more :(

  3. Mike from Ottawa says:

    How many skeletons are you talking about when you say “large numbers of skeletons of Plateosaurus”?

    • In the Keller Tongrube alone – several +/- half complete or better, and then some. Sander in 1992 already lists 18 individuals as the bare minimum. Since then I know of copious material, including ~5 “good” individuals (half-complete or more).
      Add to that the finds from the other localities in the valley, some as far away as 10 km, that indicate that the despoitional area / bonebed was huge, and you probably get some 10,000 skeletons, Ben Pabst estimates. I do not know if I believe the latter, but Frick’s “young” age as a locality and the limits on digging make the total number found proportionally as big as Trossingen and Halberstadt.

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  5. Pingback: It’s time for even more Plateosaurus! (prosauropod proportions) | dinosaurpalaeo

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