The oldest dinosaur fossil discovered in Africa

The oldest dinosaur fossil discovered in Africa

The oldest dinosaur fossil discovered in Africa

Paleontologists have discovered and named the oldest dinosaur skeleton found so far in Africa in northern Zimbabwe.

The recently named long-necked dinosaur Mbiresaurus raathi, was first unearthed during two excavations, in 2017 and 2019, scientists, including those from Virginia Tech in the United States, said.

Mbiresaurus raathi was likely about 6 feet (1.8 m) tall with a large tail, weighing between 20 and 65 pounds (9-30 kg), and was a predecessor of the long-necked sauropods, according to the study, published Wednesday in the magazine Nature.

These are the oldest known definitive dinosaurs in Africa, dating back to around 230 million years ago and similar in age to the oldest ones found elsewhere in the world, according to the researchers.

“The oldest known dinosaurs – around 230 million years ago, the Carnian phase of the late Triassic period – are extremely rare and have only been recovered from a few places in the world, mainly northern Argentina, southern Brazil and India,” said the co . -author Christopher Griffin, a 2020 graduate of Virginia Tech geosciences.

“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, ”said Dr. Griffin.

Based on fossil records, the researchers said Mbiresaurus he may have been on two legs and have a relatively small head like his dinosaur relatives.

They suspect it was a herbivore or potentially omnivore due to its small, triangle-shaped serrated teeth.

“The first dinosaurs like Mbiresaurus raathi show that early dinosaur evolution is still being written with each new discovery, and the rise of dinosaurs has been far more complicated than previously predicted, ”said Sterling Nesbitt, associate professor of geosciences and other author of the study.

“When I found the femur of Mbiresaurus, I immediately recognized it as belonging to a dinosaur and I realized I was holding the oldest dinosaur ever found in Africa. When I kept digging and found the left hip bone right next to the left femur, I had to stop and catch my breath, “said Dr. Griffin.

The new discovery also helped scientists develop a new theory of dinosaur migration.

During this period, 230 million years ago, Zimbabwe was further south than it is today and was part of the massive supercontinent Pangea.

The climate of this supercontinent at the time was divided into humid and arid latitudinal belts and more temperate belts that extended to higher latitudes and intense deserts across the lower tropics, the researchers said.

“Since the dinosaurs initially dispersed in this climate model, the early dispersion of the dinosaurs should therefore have been controlled by latitude,” said Dr. Griffin.

“The oldest dinosaurs are known from roughly the same ancient latitudes along the southern temperate climate belt, what it was at the time, about 50 degrees south,” he added.

Scientists suspect that the first dinosaurs were initially limited by climatic belts to southern Pangea and only later dispersed around the world.

They said climate controls influenced the initial composition of terrestrial dinosaurs and other large groups such as mammals, turtles, amphibians and reptiles on the continent, many of which still persist today.

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