Bryan Sebesta

A Paleogeographic Investigation

So, while watching Apple TV’s “Prehistoric Planet”, I’ve been having this nagging question. The Mesozoic period, the “age of the dinosaurs,” spans from something like 250 million years to 66 millions years ago. When was all of this?

Specifically, I got thinking about this during the Carnotaurus scene in the “Forest” episode. Besides being the funniest moment in the series—I’m not going to spoil anything, just watch—I had to pause and ask: when in the Mesozoic did the Carnotaurus live? Did it live in Patagonia (the southern tip of South America), as the show claims? And whenever this was, was Patagonia in even close to the same place?

In the Age of Google and Wikipedia, it’s amazing how quickly I can answer the first two questions really quickly.

  1. The Carnotaurus lived in the late Cretaceous.
  2. The single (!!!) but very well-preserved fossil of the Carnotaurus was discovered in a formation in Patagonia.

But what about the question of where Patagonia was 66 million years ago? Turns out, there’s an app for that. Well, a website, really. You can type in any address and see how it moves around throughout ancient geography! It’s so cool!1

I type in Neuquén, a city in northern Patagonia (close to where the Carnotaurus fossil was found), and lo and behold: Patagonia then is pretty close to Patagonia now!2

All of the show is apparently focused on the Late Cretaceous era, which explains why the show references modern continents and places: the basic shape and placement of the continents is roughly the same as today. Had we gone back another 150 million years, during the Triassic or early Jurassic Period, my fav continent Pangea would have gotten some love!

Well, that was my dinosaur investigation. I loved the show—hopefully this heralds a renaissance of great dinosaur shows (that aren’t just the Jurassic Park franchise, dumb fun though they are).

  1. The main website this paleogeography app is hosted on is a Dinosaur Pictures/Facts database, and it’s amazing on its own right. ↩︎

  2. Fun fact: 750 millions years ago, Manhattan (where I’m writing from) was smack dab in the middle of the Pannotia supercontinent, somewhere in the South Pole. ↩︎