Scientists in Zimbabwe discovered the remains of the oldest dinosaur in Africa, which roamed the earth about 230 million years ago.
The dinosaur, named Mbiresaurus raathi, was only about one meter (3.2 feet) tall, with a long tail and weighed up to 30 kilograms (66 pounds), according to the international team of paleontologists who made the discovery.
“It ran on two legs and had a fairly small head,” Christopher Griffin, the scientist who unearthed the first bone, told AFP on Thursday.
Likely an omnivore that fed on plants, small animals and insects, the dinosaur belonged to a species of sauropodomorph, the same lineage that would later include the giant, long-necked dinosaurs, said Griffin, a 31-year-old researcher at Yale University.
The skeleton was found during two expeditions in 2017 and 2019 by a team of researchers from Zimbabwe, Zambia and the United States.
“I dug up the whole femur and that’s when I knew it was a dinosaur, and I was holding the oldest known dinosaur fossil in Africa,” said Griffin, who at the time was a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech University.
His team’s findings were first published in a journal Nature on Wednesday.
The remains of dinosaurs of the same era were previously found only in South America and India.
Paleontologists chose the site in Zimbabwe after calculating that when all the continents were joined into a single landmass known as Pangea, it lay at about the same latitude as earlier finds in modern-day South America.
“Mbiresaurus raathi is remarkably similar to some dinosaurs of the same age found in Brazil and Argentina, which confirms that South America and Africa were part of a continuous landmass in the Late Triassic,” said Max Langer of the University of São Paulo in Brazil.
The dinosaur is named after the Mbire district in northeastern Zimbabwe, where the skeleton was found, and paleontologist Michael Raat, who first reported the fossils in the region.
“This (discovery) expands the range that we knew the first dinosaurs lived in,” Griffin said.
Other specimens have been found in the area and are all housed in the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe, in the second largest city, Bulawayo.
“The discovery of Mbirosaurus is an exciting and special find for Zimbabwe and the entire paleontological field,” said museum curator Michel Zonda.
“The fact that the Mbirosaurus skeleton is almost complete makes it an ideal reference material for further finds.”
Christopher Griffin, Africa’s Oldest Dinosaurs Reveal Early Dinosaur Dispersal Suppression, Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05133-x. www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-05133-x
© 2022 AFP
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