Experts examined the bones they discovered at the Cerrejón mine. They recognized that although it was the size of a crocodile vertebrae, it actually belonged to a snake. Anacondas are the largest snakes alive today, but their vertebrae are dwarfed when placed next to that of the Cerrejón monster. Weighing more than a ton, this giant snake was five times bigger than the largest alive today.
Secrets of the Dead: Graveyard of the Giant Beasts premieres Wednesday, November 2 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).
There were so many bones to pick up that we didn't always identify everything properly, that we collected.
Picking up a bone and I remember talking to a student about it at that time, and we looked at it and we weren't exactly sure what it was. So I wrapped it up in our paper and tape and put a field number on it and wrote, 'Crocodile, question mark.' Late at night I was just kind of unravelling these things. Most of them were crocodilians but there were a handful of bones there that were clearly not any crocodilian. The whole structure of the vertebrae was completely different. Alex and a fellow student recognized that although it was the size of a crocodile vertebrae, it actually belonged to a snake. Not only you know a really big snake but being bigger than any snake we knew of, and we immediately started pulling out skeletons of anacondas and pythons and finding anything we could about giant snakes and every single thing we were finding was smaller than what we were looking at. Anacondas are the largest snakes alive today, but their vertebrae are dwarfed when placed next to that of the Cerrejón monster. We realized that the bones that we had in our hands were much larger than anything that had ever been described before. In fact, so much larger that I had all kinds of wild ideas right away about how large that snake would have been, and so that's when I contacted the world's expert in calculating body size in the largest fossil snakes. That scientist was Dr. Jason Head, and what he was about to see would redefine the concept of the giant snake. Jon video chatted me one day and said 'Erm I have a giant snake, you have to see this, it's amazing' and I said, 'You know, I've seen snakes that are supposed to be giant snakes and they never turn out to be as big as you say they're going to be. So sure, you know, show me the snake.'
And then he came back holding a giant vertebra and he put it right up on the camera and at that point I got very excited and I bought a plane ticket and went down there. So when I came in the next morning I ran into Jason, and he looked at me with kind of wild eyes and said & This animal is going to reset everything we know about what it truly means to be a giant snake.
The sheer size of the snake was hard to comprehend. We started to get body size estimates that were really astounding. I was really worried that we were doing the math wrong and so we went back and we did the math over and over and over again and every time it kept giving us the same massive length. So after a while I simply had to accept the fact that this animal was almost 50 feet long. Weighing more than a ton, this giant snake was five times bigger than the largest alive today. They named this new python, Titanoboa. When they published their findings in 2009, the discovery of the snake made headlines around the world.
Little did they know that there was another monster lurking out there waiting to be discovered.