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New Madagascar predator - Majungatholus

Folks on the list might want to look up this paper in Science. -- Jeff
Hecht >Title:   Remarkable Skull Of Predatory Dinosaur Unearthed On
>Date:   May 14, 1998
>                                      Embargoed until 4 P.M. EDT
>Media contact:                                      May 14, 1998
>Cheryl Dybas                                        NSF PR 98-27
>(703) 306-1070/cdybas@nsf.gov
>Program contact:
>Chris Maples
>(703) 306-1551/cmaples@nsf.gov
>     Several specimens of a large predatory dinosaur -- including
>a nearly complete, exquisitely preserved skull -- were recently
>recovered on the island of Madagascar.  The discovery is
>announced in this week's issue of the journal Science by a team
>of researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)
>and led by paleontologist/anatomist Scott Sampson of the New York
>College of Osteopathic Medicine of the New York Institute of
>     The 65- to 70-million-year-old fossils, attributed to an
>animal called Majungatholus atopus (a theropod dinosaur), and
>dating to the Late Cretaceous period, were unearthed on an
>international expedition conducted by Science paper co-author
>David Krause of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
>     "The specimens of Majungatholus represent another in a
>series of remarkable discoveries by this research team," said
>Christopher Maples, director of NSF's geology and paleontology
>program, which funded the research.  "The Cretaceous period in
>Madagascar has rapidly become among the most important fossil
>localities of any age in the world."
>     Theropod dinosaurs have been known from Madagascar for over
>a century, but almost solely on the basis of isolated teeth -
>hundreds of them, each with tiny serrations indicating the
>predatory habits of the animal.  "Our primary goal was to find
>the owner of those teeth and, as luck would have it, we hit the
>paleontological jackpot," explained Sampson.  "This extraordinary
>skull ranks among the best known for any dinosaur."
>     With a total body length of almost 30 feet, Majungatholus
>was the top predator of the time on Madagascar, likely feeding on
>the massive long-necked sauropod dinosaurs also found there.
>     Majungatholus was originally named for an isolated skull
>fragment thought to belong to a pachycephalosaur, or dome-headed
>dinosaur.  The new skull, with an equivalent bony bump above the
>eye sockets, demonstrates that Majungatholus was not a "bonehead"
>at all, but rather a carnivorous dinosaur, a distant cousin of
>the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex.
>     Majungatholus belongs to an enigmatic group of theropods
>known as abelisaurids, otherwise recovered only from India and
>South America.  In particular, Majungatholus shares numerous
>specialized features with the horned theropod Carnotaurus in
>Argentina. The occurrence of such closely related dinosaurs on
>widely separated landmasses may have implications for plate
>tectonics, the theory that landmasses shift their relative
>positions as they move slowly across the face of the earth.
>     Madagascar was once part of the southern supercontinent
>Gondwana that fragmented during the heyday of dinosaurs.  The
>known distribution of abelisaurid theropods, as well as that of
>fossil mammals, is consistent with a recently proposed
>geophysical hypothesis that Gondwanan landmasses, perhaps
>exclusive of Africa, retained connections well into the Late
>Cretaceous, much longer than previously thought.  "If so,"
>Sampson added, "dinosaurs and other land animals may have been
>able to disperse across the vast distances between South America
>and India-Madagascar via an intervening Antarctica."
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