The Miocene landscape of continental Spain

The Miocene landscape of continental Spain
Reconstruction of Madrid’s Middle Miocene site, at Somosaguas.

This new painting it’s the first price winner of the illustration contest: “Viajando a tiempos pretéritos”, organized by the “Geodivulgar Group”, from the Complutense University of Madrid.

For the contest I had to draw a Miocene continental landscape, so I choose to reconstruct a fossil site in which I had worked before, the Somosaguas Site, in Madrid (Middle Miocene – 14 Ma). I tried to show three main features of this miocene landscape: Geology, flora and fauna.


In the Somosaguas fossil site there are three different strata, only two of them contain fossils. For the painting I choose to represent the only one with a mega-faunal assemblage, the uppermost-strata (T3, in the papers) (Hernández Fernández, et al., 2006). This layer has been interpreted as the distal part of an alluvial fan, this fan would see the formation of small ephemeral lake systems. Knowing this, I looked for pictures of alluvial fans, mainly from the Death Valley, in order to draw a similar morphology in the background of the drawings. For the mountains I painted a slightly different version of the familiar Madrid´s granitic range.


The fossil-bearing layer in the Somosaguas fossil site represents a Savanah biome, in a tropical semi-arid climate with a strong seasonality. Thanks to palynologycal analysis from various Middle Miocene sites in Madrid (Fernandez-Marrón, et al., 2004), we know that the granitic mountains were covered with Pinus, Tsuga, Fagus, Zelkova and Ilex. For the painting I focused mainly on the pine trees, maybe under the influence of the current look of this mountain range.

Some examples of pollen grains found in Madrid’s Miocene sedimentary rocks. Green for high elevation flora, yellow for the grasslands components and blue for the riparian vegetation. The grain pictures are mine. 

The vegetation in the alluvial fan would have been xeric, forming open grassland with small shrubs such as Podogonium (Miocene Fabaceae), Pistacia, Robinia, Ephedripites, Asteraceae, Ericaceae and grasses (Poaceae).

Close to the small ponds some form of riparian vegetation could develop, mainly Salix, Carya, Alnus and Daphnogene.


This fossil site provides paleontologists in Madrid with fossils from a very complete Miocene faunal assemblage. The principal components are Gomphotherium angustidens, Anchitherium sp, Prosantorhinus douvillei (among others). The carnivores are represented mainly by Hemicyon and the great Bear-Dog: Amphicyon. Also, thanks to a very extensive work carried out mainly by students, lots of microvertebrate fossils have been found in the sediment range (Hernández Fernández, et al., 2006).

In contrast to a very extensive faunal list, the painting here seems to be a bit empty. I wanted to focus mainly on the landscape and thus I paid a lot of attention to the sky, mountains and background. The only animals represented in the picture are a small herd of Gomphotherium angustidens, drinking from the small ponds that would form in the distal region of the alluvial fans during the wet season. The Gomphotherium is usually advertised as the face of the Somosaguas site, and their size (more than 3m height) would have made them a landscape feature more than anything.

By combining these three features I hope to have created a faithful reconstruction of Madrid’s landscape during the 14 million years ago.

Fernández Marrón, M.T., Fonollá Ocete, J.F. Sesé Benito, C. & Jiménez Rodrigo, J.C. Estudio paleomabiental de nuevos yacimientos de plantas y vertebrados de la “Unidad Intermedia” del Mioceno Medio de la cuenca de Madrid. Revista Española de Paleontología, 19, 2, 199-213.

Hernández Fernández, M., Cárdaba, J.A., Cuevas-González, J., Fesharaki, O., Salesa, M.J., Corrales, B., Domingo, L., Elez, J., López Guerrero, P., Sala-Burgos, N., Morales, & López-Martínez, N. 2006. Los yacimientos de vertebrados del Mioceno medio de Somosaguas (Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid): implicaciones paleoambientales y paleoclimáticas. Estudios Geológicos, 62, 1, 266-294.

Happy Turiasaurus Family

This is a drawing I originally did for the Paleocast 2016 Art Competition which got AWESOME submission and you should really check out. It features a family of Turiasaurus riodevensis having a mud bath in a tidal mud plain or tidal-flat, at the shore of the Tethys Ocean.

“Happy Turiasaurus Family”

Turiasaurus was first described in Royo-Torres et al., 2006 from the Late Tithonian-Middle Berriasian of Teruel (Spain), near the town of Riodeva. Turiasaurus is among the largest dinosaurs known, with 36–39 metres in length and with a weight of 40-48 tonnes. The genus name makes reference to Teruel’s main river, the Turia. The fossils were found in an outcrop of the Villar del Arzobispo Formation, which can be found through most of the Iberian Ranges.

The Villar del Arzobispo Fm. has been traditionally interpreted as a coastal unit of Tithonian age. However, recent studies (Campos-Soto et al., 2016) claim that the older sub-units within the Formation are of Kimmeridgian age and marine in nature. The sub-unit containing the tidal-flats in which Turiasaurus was discovered has not yet been studied, but it may be older than previously thought.

Pic I took during my trip to Teruel. Rafael Royo shows us how Turiasaurus hand bones fit inside a saurupod footprint found at the Villar del Arzobispo Formation.

I was lucky to travel to Teruel during my Master’s course where I was able to take a look at Villar del Arzobispo Fm. There, Rafael Royo (one of the paleontologist who first described Turiasaurs) showed us some sauropod footprints and how Turiasaurus hand bones fitted inside.

The vegetation is again shoved to the background and the dinos take the main focus. There is no reason to believe that sauropods didn’t take mud baths to fight the high temperatures and get rid of skin parasites, as big mammals do today. You can see some pterosaurs flying around and on the back of the two adult Turiasaurus. These pterosaurs are feeding on the dinosaur’s skin parasites, as some birds do with rhinos and elephants today. There is no proof of this symbiotic behavior in the fossil record, but seems kind of natural.

I drew two rhamphorhynchus flying between the dinos. These pterosaurus are not found in the same site, but they did live during this age and are found all throught europe.

The brownish coloration of the dinos is not based on any scientific evidence; in fact, I choose that coloration after looking at some cows from Asturias. Not the best method of assigning coloration patterns to dinosaurs, but I think it works here.

Hope you like it. I promise the next one will have more paleoenvironmental weight.


Campos-Soto, S., Benito, M. I., Mas, R., Caus, E., Cobos, A., Suárez-González, P., & Quijada, I. E. (2016). Revisiting the Late Jurassic-Early Cretaceous of the NW South Iberian Basin: new ages and sedimentary environments.

Royo-Torres, R., Cobos, A., & Alcalá, L. (2006). A giant European dinosaur and a new sauropod clade. Science314(5807), 1925-1927.

Reconstruction of the Cortes de Arenoso Site (Spain, Utrillas Group, Albian).

Reconstruction of the Cortes de Arenoso Site (Spain, Utrillas Group, Albian).

As promised, this reconstruction is focused in the vegetation rather than the animals. I made this piece in 2015 for my Master’s Thesis. It features a wet interdune, a pond between desert dunes with enough water and humidity to allow the presence of vegetation. I took inspiration from the wet interdunes of Namib’s desert and the Lençóis Maranhenses’s National Park at Brazil.

A wet interdune from the Albian of Spain.

This reconstruction is not based on macrofossils from plants found at the site. Instead, I carried out a palinological study. I spent days looking at fossilized pollen and spores found inside the Utrillas sandstones. The Utrillas Group is a large unit of sandstones and clays of mainly Albian age. In recent years it has been interpreted as dune and interdune deposits.


The outcrop. The white sands are the dune deposits of the Utrillas Group. (Cortes de Arenoso, Castellón).

There are two vegetation groups featured in the picture: The plants found inside the wet interdune and those found outside, which can be seen beyond the dunefield.

Inside the wet interdune, and near the pond I placed the most representative families found in the samples. These are mainly ferns and angiosperms, which would need high levels of humidity. You can see some Cupressaceae plants and cykas, less frequent in the samples.

Outside the interdune and near the coast with the Tethys Ocean, the top of Auracariaceae and Cheirolepidiaceae trees can be seen. These trees are placed near the coast as they thrive in salt-rich soils. Not featured in the picture are the pines and other conifers, which would grow at the mountain ranges at the other side of the dunefield.

1- Auracariaceae & Cheirolepidiaceae. 2- Cupressaceae. 3- Cycadales/Bennettitales. 4- Ferns (Cyatheaceae, Dicksoniaceae, Schizaeaceae & Gleeicheniaceae). 5- Angiosperms (Chloranthaceae).
A figure from my Master’s Thesys. It shows the vegetation inside the interdune and their pollen or spores. Mind the spanish.

This vegetation points to a hot and arid climate. Which could mean that the dunes were part of a much larger desert system.

Two Coloborhynchus are flying over the dunes. This pterosaur is found in England, North Africa, South American and Brazil. It has not been found in Spain but it probably flew over the dunes on their migratory paths.

Next entry: Back to dinos!


Altolaguirre, Y. (2015): Estudio palinológico preliminar del Cretácico Inferior de la sección de Cortes de Arenoso (Castellón). (Master’s Thesys) 59.

Rodríguez‐López, J. P., Melendez, N., de Boer, P. L., & Soria, A. R. (2012): Controls on marine–erg margin cycle variability: aeolian–marine interaction in the mid‐Cretaceous Iberian Desert System, Spain. Sedimentology, 59(2), 466-501.

Reconstruction of the Armuña Site (Campanian, Spain).

Vanished Forests gets it’s first blog entry and paleoartistic reconstruction. Today’s subject is the Campanian (Upper Cretaceous) site of Armuña at the Province of Segovia, a region in central Spain. The site was relatively unknown to the scientific community until the last years.

The landscape near the Village of Armuña. Note the cretaceous carbonates.

The Armuña site has yielded fossil bones, teeth and scales from actinopterygii fishes, turtles, crocodilians, lizards, mosasaurs, ornithischians, sauropods and theropods. However, the genus of most of them remains unknown. The fossils are scarce, often damaged, and never found showing anatomical connection. The site is found within the sands of the Vegas de Matute Formation, a unit composed of sandstones, clays and silts. It’s interpreted as fluvial deposits with some degree of marine influence. If anyone wants more taxonomic or geological info you can find it at Perez-García et al., 2015.

With this information at hand I reconstructed a little Campanian scene showing the shore of a river which would empty into the Tethys Ocean.

Paleontological reconstruction of the Campanian of Armuña, Segovia.

There is little info about the paleobotanical context, so the flora is restricted to the background of the picture and composed of some generic conifers, cykas and ferns. I promise more detailed flora in the future.

The main subjects here are the dinosaurs. At the left we have a family of little (~6 m long) ornithischians. Most of the studies agree that they likely belong to the genus Rhabdodon, found frequently at the late Cretaceous sites of Europe.

A family of titanosaur sauropods comes into picture from the right. They are bigger than the Rhabdodons, but small compared to the average sauropod. There is no consensus on the genus of these animals but they show similarities with Lirainosaurus. Note the osteoderms and spikes on the backs.

Additionally, you can find a few turtles and a crocodile minding their own business in the lower frame. You can also see a couple of pterosaurs flying far away. I must point that there is no description of pterosaur fossils from the Armuña site, they are there to add dynamism to the picture. Or something like that.

Missing from this picture, but present on the site, are the theropod and the mosasaur. The theropod doesn’t have a genus but seems related to Arcovenator (an abelisaurid theropod from France). The mosasaur is, as you probably know, a marine reptile, so it’s remains probably ended up in the site during one of the sea-influence episodes or by necrokinetic transport. Who knows? I want to make another reconstruction showing those two together.

Hope you like it.


Hernández, E. C., Sanz, J. L., Ortega, F., & Escaso, F. (2007). Restos de dinosaurios del Cretácico superior de Armuña (Segovia). In Cantera Paleontológica (pp. 133-142). Diputación Provincial de Cuenca Cuenca, Spain.

Pérez-García, A., Ortega, F., Bolet, A., Escaso, F., Houssaye, A., Martínez-Salanova, C. de Miguel Chaves, P. Mocho, I. Narvaez, M. Segura, A. Torices, D. Vidal & J.L. Sanz. (2016). A review of the upper Campanian vertebrate site of Armuña (Segovia Province, Spain). Cretaceous Research, 57, 591-623.