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Diego Suarez was not of those 7-year-olds obsessed with dinosaurs. He was more into contemporary mammals, he says, and he kept a vast collection of cow and sheep bones he had found nearby the summer cottage his parents, both geologists, had recently built in the Chilean Patagonia.
“That’s how I began to know the texture of bones,” said Suarez, who is among an elite circle of people who have a species of dinosaur named after him. And not just any species, but the first vegetarian theropod (a well-known carnivore in the T-Rex family) ever found in that part of the world and one described by paleontologists as “one of the most bizarre dinosaurs ever found.”
I showed them to my sister and then my parents. They were all in awe, nobody could believe it.
Diego Suarez, now 18, is the Chilean boy who found the first fossils of the Chilesaurus diegosuarezi back in 2004, while out in the field with mom, dad and his older sister. They were down in Aysen region, 850 miles south of Santiago and four complicated hours on horseback away from their General Carrera Lake cottage.
“As both my parents were geologists, I already had the notion that dinosaurs existed,” he told Fox News Latino in an email, “and having searched bones of mammals, I knew there were also dinosaur bones [to be found].”
He said that “as any 7-year-old boy” he asked his mother for one of her geological hammers to play with hitting rocks.
“I told her, ’Mom, I am going to look for dinosaur bones’”.
So he was hitting away in a narrow passage, following around his big sister (who was searching pretty rocks herself), when he hit a chunk of soil that quickly crumbled. Two peculiar small objects went flying to the ground.
“I look at them and I say to myself ‘fossil bones.’ I showed them to my sister and then my parents. They were all in awe, nobody could believe it,” Suarez told FNL.
As it turns out, his parents, who were there to study the Mesozoic basins as part of a project funded by the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (Fondecyt), had already established that the area belonged to the Jurassic Period – and hence the rarity of what seemed to be fossils of a plant-eater theropod.
“The discovery of Chilesarus diegosuarezi not only challenges our conception of theropod evolution, but also about the ecological role it played,” said Fernando Novas, one of the authors of the study published in Nature, which last month broke the news of the new species.
What little Diego found that Feb. 4, 2004 were a rib (3 inches) and a vertebra (0.7 inches) that became the first of thousands to be unearthed during the following decade. Today paleontologists have been able to put together the bones of 12 Chilesaurus, four of them complete.
The 150 million-year-old creature typically grew up 10 feet long from tail to nose, according to Manuel Suarez, Diego’s father and head of the Geology department at Santiago-based Andres Bello University.
Suarez senior, who spends half of the week working on remote locations, said his teenage son still comes with him to search for fossils once in a while but decided against pursuing paleontology or geology because he finds the profession too lonely.
Now on his way to become a civil engineer, Diego says he still can’t believe a dinosaur – and a missing link dinosaur at that – will carry his name.
“It's amazing to be part of such a big thing, and at such a young age. People and kids will be talking about me when they go study them or see them,” he said. “I never imagined the discovery would be of such magnitude.”