Scientists find two-legged dinosaur bones in Zimbabwe

Scientists have recently documented their findings of the bones of a new species of two-legged dinosaur in Zimbabwe. It is believed to be the oldest ever found in Africa. 

The plant-eating dinosaur is the predecessor of the long-necked sauropods. This new species has been named Mbiresaurus raathi.

Yale University scientists found the near-complete skeleton fossil in the Zambezi Valley in 2017 and 2019. Christopher Griffin said a dinosaur femur bone was sticking out of the ground. When the scientists dug around it, they found a hip bone. ‘I kept digging, got more of the team to help out, and we recovered nearly the entire skeleton,’ he said, reported in Life magazine on 31 August 2022. Christopher Griffin says the rocks were possibly river deposits and the dinosaur may have been buried during a flood. 

The skeleton is a fossil from the Late Triassic period and has been identified as a species of sauropodomorph, an ancestral relative of the sauropods which walked around on four legs and has a huge long neck. The scientists estimate the new-found skeleton bones to be around 230 million years old, part of the Late Triassic period called the Carnian age. Zimbabwe would have been further south and part of the massive super-continent Pangaea. This makes the skeleton the oldest ever found in Africa. 

Pangaea had a temperate climate and the dinosaurs are thought to have avoided the harsh deserts in the north.

Christopher Griffin used the climatic lines to help pinpoint a possible source of dinosaur fossils in Zimbabwe. Another clue came from a 1992 paper by Michael Raath that reported the discovery of rhynchosaur fossils – a Carnian-aged reptile in the Pebbly Arkose Formation in the Dande area of northern Zimbabwe. So, the Yale University team commenced digging. At one site, the scientists found hundreds of bones, mostly from rhynchosaurs. Then Christopher Griffin found the femur bone, which was not from a rhynchosaur.

The new dinosaur skeleton (Mbiresaurus raathi) stood at least one metre tall (39 inches), ran on two legs, weighed around 30 kilograms, and had a small head, long neck, and serrated, leaf-shaped teeth. 

Journal reference: NatureDOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05133-x

Illustration of dinosaur: Audrey Atuchin


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