Africa’s oldest dinosaur skeleton discovered in Zimbabwe

Africa’s oldest dinosaur skeleton discovered in Zimbabwe

Africa’s oldest dinosaur skeleton discovered in Zimbabwe

An international team of paleontologists has discovered what they believe to be the oldest dinosaur skeleton ever discovered in Africa. The skeleton of Mbiresaurus raathi – described as a long-necked plant-eating dinosaur – was found in northern Zimbabwe, according to a Virginia Tech news release Wednesday. Mbiresaurus raathi lived more than 230 million years ago, the researchers said.

Mbiresaurus raathi was about 6 feet long, had a long tail, and weighed 20 to 65 pounds. Mbiresaurus raathi is considered a sauropodomorph, a long-necked dinosaur.

Artistic reconstruction of Mbiresaurus raathi (foreground) with the rest of the Zimbabwean animals set in the background.  Includes two rincosaurs (front right), an ethosaurus (left) and a herrerasaurid dinosaur chasing a cynodon (back right) / Credit: Andrey Atuchin / Virginia Tech

Artistic reconstruction of Mbiresaurus raathi (foreground) with the rest of the Zimbabwean animals set in the background. Includes two rincosaurs (front right), an ethosaurus (left) and a herrerasaurid dinosaur chasing a cynodon (back right) / Credit: Andrey Atuchin / Virginia Tech

The mostly intact skeleton was found by Virginia Tech student Christopher Griffin and other paleontologists during two excavations in Zimbabwe in 2017 and 2019. The international team of researchers who found the skeleton said its unique parts missing were some of the hands and portions of the skull.

“The discovery of Mbiresaurus raathi fills a critical geographic gap in the fossil record of older dinosaurs and shows the power of hypothesis-driven fieldwork to test predictions about the ancient past,” Griffin said in a statement.

Based on their findings, the Mbiresaurus stood on two legs and had a relatively small head with serrated, triangle-shaped teeth.

“These are the oldest known definitive dinosaurs from Africa, roughly equivalent in age to the oldest dinosaurs found anywhere in the world.” Griffin said. “The oldest known dinosaurs – dating from around 230 million years ago, the Carnian phase of the late Triassic – are extremely rare and have only been recovered from a few places in the world, mainly northern Argentina, southern Brazil and India. “.

Christopher Griffin in 2017, while excavating part of Mbiresaurus raathi's skeleton, wrapped in a plaster field jacket.  / Credit: Stephen Tolan, for the Paleobiology & Geobiology Research Group at Virginia Tech

Christopher Griffin in 2017, while excavating part of Mbiresaurus raathi’s skeleton, wrapped in a plaster field jacket. / Credit: Stephen Tolan, for the Paleobiology & Geobiology Research Group at Virginia Tech

Most of the Mbiresaurus skeleton is kept in Virginia Tech’s Derring Hall to be cleaned and studied. However, it will eventually be moved to the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, along with any additional fossils found in the area, the university said.

“The fact that the Mbiresaurus skeleton is nearly complete makes it a perfect reference material for further finds,” Michel Zondo, the museum’s curator and fossil preparer, said in a press release. “It is the first finding of sauropodomorphs of its size from Zimbabwe, otherwise most of our sauropodomorph finds from here are usually medium to large animals.”

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