Incredibly, the specimen isn’t just ancient but also near-complete.
A graduate student from Virginia Tech’s Department of Geosciences discovered the oldest dinosaur ever discovered in Africa. The ancient animal was mostly intact, allowing palaeontologists to identify it as a previously unknown species.
The ancient dinosaur walked on two legs, weighed between 9 and 29 kilogrammes (20 and 65 pounds), and measured approximately two metres (6 feet). It belonged to the Sauropodomorpha, an extinct clade of sauropod dinosaurs. It had a long neck and tail, as well as a small head armed with herbivore or omnivore triangular teeth.
The new species is known as Mbiresaurus raathi, and it was described in the journal Nature.
Its name derives from Shona and ancient Greek roots, with “Mbire” referring to both the district where it was discovered and the Shona dynasty that ruled the region. Paleontologist Michael Raath is remembered by the surname “raathi” as one of the first to report on fossils discovered in northern Zimbabwe.
“We never expected to find such a complete and well-preserved dinosaur skeleton,” said lead author Dr. Christopher Griffin, who graduated from Virginia Tech’s College of Science in 2020 and is now a post-doctoral researcher at Yale University.
“When I discovered Mbiresaurus’ femur, I immediately recognised it as belonging to a dinosaur, and I knew I was holding Africa’s oldest dinosaur.” When I kept digging and discovered the left hip bone right next to the left thigh bone, I had to take a deep breath because I knew that a large portion of the skeleton was probably still there, articulated together in life position.”
Finding such ancient specimens neatly stacked in their death positions is a rare but fortuitous find, one that a man recently enjoyed in his own back garden when he stumbled across what could be Europe’s largest dinosaur.
The unexpected appearance of M. raathi in the area demonstrates that what we know about the earliest dinosaurs (which lived around 230 million years ago) is always just one discovery away from being rewritten. Fortunately, this discovery will allow researchers working on the specimen to try to fill gaps in our current understanding.
“The discovery of Mbiresaurus raathi bridges a critical geographic gap in the fossil record of the oldest dinosaurs and demonstrates the power of hypothesis-driven fieldwork for testing predictions about the ancient past,” Griffin added. “These are Africa’s oldest-known definitive dinosaurs, roughly equivalent in age to the world’s oldest dinosaurs.”
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