The Hateg Country Dinosaurs Geo-park

The Hateg Country Dinosaurs Geo-park ( is, above all, the place where history may be studied in all of its layers, but also an area where palaeontologists are on a double watch – for fossils and for dinosaur bone thieves. In 1975, when the representatives of the Bucharest University started digging, the level which was to be reached still remained unknown. The first enthusiastic bunch were totally unaware that even EU officials were going to enquire about their very important research and that the European Commission would finance a symposium focused on dwarf dinosaurs in "Ţara Haţegului". Organized digging in the area started some thirty years ago, though locals had been looking for "giant bones", as dinosaur fossils were called, for quite some time. Doenel Vulc, a farmer with scarce education, who eventually started using palaeontologist slang in basic communication, says that "We have bones of dinosaurs which were not located in any other area. Before World War I, the baron Nopcea was interested in these things and used to search around these hills. People have known about these things for a very long time and he may have been the one to spread the rumour that these were animal bones, but people understood they were 'giant bones' and this was how I came to hear about them in the first place, too." The Dinosaurs Geo-park is actually a natural park with special features, which finally offers people the opportunity to appreciate the values they come into contact with. Dwarf dinosaurs in Ţara Haţegului are actually the best known dinosaur species in Europe and they were traced back 65 million years ago, when Ţara Haţegului was an island in the middle of the Tethys Ocean (out of which the Mediterranean emerged). The idea of a Geo-park had been launched in1999, but the Government decision establishing it only came in November 2004, followed by the foundation of the Geo-park, in March 2005. The Geo-park covers almost 1200 square kms of Ţara Haţegului, stretching over the town of Haţeg and the rural areas of General Berthelot, Densuş, Răchitova, Toteşti, Sarmizegetusa, Râu de Mori, Sântămăria Orlea, Pui, Sălaş, and Baru Mare. For everything to function properly, all the communities involved adapted their local development plans to the strategic plan of the Geo-park. But not everybody kept their promises. "The Geo-park was founded through a Government decision, but we have to struggle ourselves to find financial support. We have signed a partnership with all mayor's offices in the area and each of them should pledge in a certain amount of money, but not all of them stuck to our agreement. We get by with some help from the Bucharest University, which also finances some research programmes," says Dan Grigorescu, the manager of the park and also a professor at the Bucharest University. "We are very much bothered by the fact that we have to keep the area safe from thieves, especially as we are not permanently present here. Nevertheless, we managed to hire some guardians for the Reservation." (Dan Grigorescu) A custodian from Ţara HaţeguluiDoenel Vulc, of the village of Sâmpetru, is a landmark when it comes to the Dinosaurs Geo-park. This is a man who guards his animals, on the mountain, while looking for fossils. He is 68 years old and he was involved, from the very beginning, in the project launched by the Bucharest University. Doenel Vulc is a farmer who only graduated from primary school and who is yet able to casually provide specific data on dinosaur bones: "I took part in the digging process, with the students from the Bucharest University. Actually, we walk our sheep on these mountains and we constantly look for fossils – if we find any, we take them to the museum where they are dated." He never expected any reward for what he is doing and even offered some of the land he owns for scientific purposes: "I did everything for the glory of our country and of our village, such that we may carry on the name of these lands..." But other people did think of a reward, and so it happens that Doenel Vulc will be appointed custodian of the Geo-park. The mayor of Sântămărie Orlea, Ioan Filip, offered us the information, saying that not everybody was capable of such generosity. Some people refused to allow researchers on their lots of land, hoping that they might get rich themselves. "It is a question of ownership conscience, so to say – they thought they could become rich overnight. Actually, they wanted to sell their lands." Although there are many opponents to his idea, the mayor sees a common future for the village and the Geo-park. "We are trying to trigger awareness among people in the area about the opportunity of building boarding houses and get some profit out of their animal products. I'm sure there will be some echoes to this idea in the future, such that the name of this village may go down in history." Europeans eager to find out more about dwarf dinosaursThe first steps have already been taken when a case study of the Dinosaurs Geo-park in Ţara Haţegului was presented in a symposium organized and financed by the European Commission. The event was part of TAIEX, a programme targeting the new members of the European Union, as well as candidate countries. The Geo-park was singled out by the Commission as a proficient strategy for both new members and candidates. Consequently, over sixty people from twenty three countries came to see the "cradle" of dwarf dinosaurs in Ţara Haţegului, the place where the fossils of these mostly herbivorous creatures were found. But another dinosaur used to dwell in this area – Hatzegopteryx, a real flying giant, one of the largest flying animals ever. It was a lesson in world history everybody welcomed. The symposium addressed specialists, teachers and students likewise, but Dan Grigorescu pointed out that "the target is mainly formed by teachers, who can disseminate the information." The final aim of the symposium is to provide data on development problems of former communist countries, their difficulties, although organizers hope other projects targeted at regional development will soon be launched. Almost everything in Romania functions differently as compared to other EU countries. So does the Dinosaurs Geo-park. According to the manager of the institution, that has been digging in the area for thirty years, "In Western countries, such a Geo-park is set up by local communities. People in Romania are fed up with voluntary work and the only solution is for some official to come and make the system work." DANGER – Fossil thieves The fossils of dwarf dinosaurs were an attraction for those dreaming of becoming wealthy overnight by selling dinosaur bones on the black market for big sums of money. According to mayor Ioan Filip, "We heard of cases in which people found fossils and tried to keep them for themselves." Dan Grigorescu, who was keen on highlighting the fact that people often refuse to intervene, on the ground of lack of competence, also explains that "We have been having problems with thieves. The chief of the police section in Hunedoara sent a team in Valea Sibişelului two years ago, to investigate reported unauthorized digging. Several fossil items were found in private homes." Romania libera, 10 October 2007 Translated by Ioana Bâldea

by Carmen Cosman