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Ancient animals park opens in Russian North

The sculptures are in the open air, on the park’s embankment

ARKHANGELSK, June 13. /TASS/. A park with full-size sculptures of ancient animals opened on June 10 in Kotlas, the Arkhangelsk region. Right at that place, in the late 19th century, a geologist and paleontologist Vladimir Amalitsky discovered a huge burial place of animals, which lived during the Permian period - it was the first discovery of this kind in Russia. The animals were much older than well-known dinosaurs. This discovery was the beginning of Russian paleontology. Dvinopark (River Dvina + park), where the sculptures of Severodvinsk ancestors of mammals are located, was created to mark the 100th anniversary of the city of Kotlas.

Park of therapsids

The sculptures are in the open air, on the park’s embankment. The figures of concrete have strong metal skeletons. "They are painted, we have imitated wool. The figures are made according to drawings by paleontologists and according to the found skeletons," - the author, Andrei Slibo, said.

The creatures that lived in the Permian period in the area, where the Northern Dvina flows now, were very different. Some were of four meters, others only about two meters, and some were slightly bigger than a dog, the sculptor said. The figures are very solid, he added.

Not dinosaurs, but close relatives of a human

A leading researcher, head of the paleogerpethology laboratory at the Borisyak Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Andrei Sennikov, in an interview with TASS stressed those creatures are not all like the familiar dinosaurs, but quite different animals, and they are way more ancient. The creatures, found near Kotlas, lived in the Permian period (the last period of the Paleozoic Era) - that is more than 200 million years ago. Much earlier than the time of dinosaurs.

"Dinosaurs are an episode in the life of the Earth, a long one of course, but still an episode. Permian animals are our distant relatives, who are closer to us than dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are distant relatives of birds," the scientist explained.

Kotlas as the birthplace of Russian paleontology

In 1898, near Kotlas, on the bank of the Northern Dvina River, geologist Vladimir Amalitsky discovered a huge burial of animal-like lizards, many of which were unknown to the science. To some of them the geologists gave names of the place where they were found. "Dvina is a therapsid, therapsids are close to mammals. Therapsids can be said to be our ancestor in some generation," explained a paleo-animalist, Andrei Skvortsov, of the Vyatka paleontological museum. "Dinosaurs are amphibian, Kotlassiya is amphibian, though close to reptiles."

A classic therapsid is inostrantseviya, which was called so in memory of a Russian geologist, the Arctic explorer, Alexander Inostrantsev. "It was a saber-toothed animal, a predator, which could reach four and a half meters in size," the researcher said. It may be compared with the largest modern land-based predator - a polar bear. But large inostrantseviyas were 1.5-2 times bigger, he said.

The findings near Kotlas gave birth to the Russian paleontology, the scientist said. "This means systematic excavation, detailed study and description, reconstruction of the animals’ living conditions." Those excavations opened the modern stage of paleontology in Russia. "Amalitsky was a pioneer, ahead of many foreign colleagues," the scientist continued. "His Severodvinsk gallery became the core of our collection (The Paleontological Institute named after Borisyak in Moscow - TASS)".

Natalia Nikolaeva of Kotlas’ Local History Museum told TASS - over ten years Amalitsky discovered 20 complete skeletons of animals and a huge number of bones. "Two railway cars took them to Kotlas and further on to Warsaw," she said. The collection’s studies continue. Nowadays, the objects are kept in Moscow.

Scientific tourism

Further excavations should continue near Kotlas, the scientist said. Scientific tourism to the region is also promising. "We (Russia - TASS) are rich in Permian-Triassic discoveries, these animals are not as huge as dinosaurs, but they are extremely important for the science, for understanding of evolution processes," he said. In his opinion, dinosaurs, due to, probably, their size, are simply "more promoted." The paleontologist agrees with his colleague.

"Those are imbalances, which give a one-sided perception of life on the Earth," he said.

A large exposition at Kotlas’ Local History Museum is devoted to therapsids. It offers interactive elements, which attract many children, who may see stones, in which remains of ancient animals can be found. Children are invited to a game of digging and making descriptions of their findings.

Figures of the Permian inhabitants, erected on the embankment in Kotlas, would become exhibits for educational programs in the open air, the museum’s representative said. "We shall have special programs by autumn, and besides, on the shore there are many stones with remains - we shall use them, too," she added.