Triassic treasure hunt yields African dinosaur bonanza
New species discovered as scientists comb under-researched areas to shed light on dinosaur life in southern Africa
Southern Africa was one great big Triassic park.
A 10-year project involving 27 scientists, 2,200 fossils and multiple expeditions to southern Africa has produced a treasure trove of information about the life of dinosaurs in the Triassic period.
The scientists also discovered a previously unknown dinosaur – a new species of lizard-like reptile called a procolophonid.
Digging for information about life in southern Africa 252 million to 199 million years ago, the scientists focused on under-researched areas in Zambia and Tanzania, hoping to compare their findings with those of the Karoo Basin in South Africa, which has been the source of most dinosaur knowledge until now.“I was always interested in understanding, do we see the exact same pattern around the world, or do we not?” said Christian Sidor, a University of Washington biology professor.
The goal of the project, reported in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology, was to study disparate locations and look for similarities in the fossil record.
“We have the same fossils from Tanzania, Antarctica, Namibia and more,” Sidor said. “We’re getting a much better southern hemisphere perspective of what’s going on in the Triassic.”Sidor was the lead scientist on the project, which drew in academics from 16 institutions across the world, including Iziko South Africa Museums, the University of Witwatersrand and the National Museum in Bloemfontein.
The team included students, postdoctoral researchers, palaeontologists and geologists. Their research sites were in the Ruhuhu Basin of Tanzania and the Luangwa and mid-Zambezi basins of Zambia.Two of the papers in the journal described similarities and regional patterns across Pangea — the name given to the giant landmass in which all the continents were joined as one, where the world’s earliest mammals and reptiles roamed Earth.
Other papers look at an early dinosaur relative called Teleocrater, which walked on crocodile-like legs, as well as other animals present in the Triassic period that were not dinosaurs.