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New Dinosaur Fossils Found in Africa



Researchers Find Bones of Previously Unknown Dinosaurs in Africa
10/14/94

By TARA BURGHART

CHICAGO (AP) - The bones of two new species of dinosaurs have been discovered,
including a fleet-footed hunter so fierce it attacked animals more than 50 times
its size.

The dinosaurs lived 130 million years ago in a lush, tropical paradise that is
now the Sahara desert.

The hunter dinosaur, about 7 feet tall and 27 feet long, was named
Afrovenator abakensis, or "African hunter from In Abaka," referring to the area
of Niger where the bones were found.

The second species was a 60-foot-long plant-eater that is still unnamed. It was
a sauropod - akin to the brontosaurus - so massive that its thigh bone was six
feet long.

Paul C. Sereno, leader of a University of Chicago team, unveiled some of the
bones from the 1993 expedition on Thursday. A report by Sereno and his
colleagues is in today's issue of the journal Science.

Sereno said the dinosaur species were the first found in Africa that date
from the Cretaceous, the second half of the age of dinosaurs. They are similar
to animals that lived during an earlier time in North America and Asia.

The Sahara Desert is one of the least explored places on Earth for dinosaur
fossils, and that's what prompted Sereno to lead the search there.

"We cast our fishing line and we found two huge fish on the line," said Sereno.

Sereno said Afrovenator was a type of predator known as an allosaurus. It was
smaller than Tyrannosaurus Rex, the killer king that lived during a later era in
the American West, but bigger than the Velociraptor featured in the film
"Jurassic Park."

Afrovenator ran on two back legs and had very strong forelimbs with
sickle-shaped claws, Sereno said. And it was apparently such a fearsome hunter
that it preyed on the far bigger sauropod. The size difference would be
comparable to a collie attacking an elephant.

"At every place we found the sauropod we did find traces, such as teeth, of the
theropod," said Sereno. "It is very likely that they were prey and predator."

The newly discovered dinosaurs lived together in what may have been a
prehistoric Eden. Sereno said the area was once in a perpetual summer, with
plentiful rainfall and lush forests. Rivers and lakes were filled with fish and,
even then, crocodiles.

The team spent less than a month excavating the site, working 16-hour days and
unearthing nearly six tons of bones from a "treasure trove" of dinosaur
fossils that Sereno hopes to return to one day.

William Hammer, a paleontologist at Augustana College, called the discoveries
"very significant."

"It's going to fill in some holes on the evolution of the big carnivores," he
said.

Other experts said the discoveries add new understanding about the worldwide
distribution of dinosaurs.

During the dinosaur era, the land masses that eventually aligned themselves
into continents were just beginning to drift apart. Africa, India, Antarctica
and Australia were all joined together. North America was split in half, with
the western part joined at the Bering Strait with Asia.

Sereno said the similarity between the African dinosaurs he found and those
discovered in North America and Asia suggest a land bridge connected the
continents for at least part of the Cretaceous era.

Science, which published the study, is the journal of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science.