The oldest dinosaur ever discovered in Africa is 230 million years old, paleontologists have found.
The near-complete skeleton was unearthed over the course of two years by a team of paleontologists in northern Zimbabwe, led by the Virginia Tech Department of Geosciences.
The fossil belongs to a long-necked, herbivorous dinosaur from sauropodomorph family, according to a press release on the find. It was only missing a few portions of the skull and the hand.
The animal was 6 feet long and weighed between 20 to 65 pounds. It lived in the Carnian Stage of the Late Triassic period.
The findings on the newly named Mbiresaurus raathi dinosaur was published on 31 August in the journal Nature.
This finding is incredibly rare, according to Christopher Griffin, study co-author and post-doctoral researcher at Yale University.
“The discovery of Mbiresaurus raathi fills in a critical geographic gap in the fossil record of the oldest dinosaurs and shows the power of hypothesis-driven fieldwork for testing predictions about the ancient past,” Griffin said in a press release. “These are Africa’s oldest-known definitive dinosaurs, roughly equivalent in age to the oldest dinosaurs found anywhere in the world.”
Griffin said the team “never expected” to find such a “well-preserved dinosaur skeleton.”
“When I found the femur of Mbiresaurus, I immediately recognized it as belonging to a dinosaur and I knew 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 thigh bone, I had to stop and take a breath—I knew that a lot of the skeleton was probably there, still articulated together in life position,” he said.
The oldest dinosaur ever found in Africa sheds new light into the early evolution of the dinosaurs.
Co-author of the study Sterling Nesbitt said finds such as this show that “early evolution of dinosaurs is still being written with each new find.”
She said it shows the rise of the ancient creatures “was far more complicated than previously predicated.”
The study found that this dinosaur likely stood on two legs. The teeth were also triangular, suggesting that it was a herbivore.
Other ancient fossils were found scattered around the dig site. Paleontologists also found evidence of a herrerasaurid, another one of the world’s oldest dinosaurs.
They also uncovered fossils of ancient mammals such as cynodonts, and aetosaurs, a type of crocodilian.
Once research into the skeleton is complete, it will be kept at the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe.
“This is such an exciting and important dinosaur find for Zimbabwe, and we have been watching the scientific process unfold with great pride,” museum director Moira Fitzpatrick said in a press release.