When Giovanni Todesco found the fossil, he didn't realize what he had. "I thought it was some sort of reptile," he says, "or maybe a bird." Then Todesco saw Jurassic Park and noticed the resemblance between his 20-inch-long find and the movie's voracious velociraptors.
So Todesco turned the fossil over to paleontologists from the Natural History Museum in Milan and, in March, after five years of study, his discovery was formally introduced as Scipionyx samniticus—the first dinosaur fossil found in Italy, the first specimen of a new kind of dinosaur and, perhaps most important, the first to include such extensive innards.
Todesco, now 51, a shoe factory manager, was temporarily working near Naples in 1980 when he found the rock with the telltale dark stripe that indicates the presence of a fossil. Back home in northern Italy, he cleaned up the fossil and began a futile effort to identify the bony creature with the long neck and sharp
teeth. Then he contacted a paleontologist. "When he saw the fossil," says Todesco, "his hands were trembling. I ad to give him a glass of grappa."
The dinosaur, which lived 113 mil-on years ago and may be an ancestor Tyrannosaurus rex and other velo-ciraptors, probably drowned in a lagoon just weeks after it was born. Its internal organs have led scientists to peculate that the creature was warmblooded, giving credence to the theory that some dinosaurs evolved into birds.
Since Italian law forbids removal of vertebrate fossils, Todesco received no official credit and has never profited from his discovery. But that doesn't take away from the wonder of his accomplishment. "I never thought I'd find a dinosaur," he marvels. Who ever does?
On Newsstands Now
- The Little Couple: A New Mom's Fight to Live
- Remembering Nelson Mandela
- Princess Kate's Style Secret!
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine