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Africa’s oldest dinosaur discovered in Northern Zimbabwe

A team of palaeontologists has discovered a new early skeleton that is so far, the oldest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Africa. It is estimated Mbiresaurus raathi was a long-necked dinosaur that was about 6 feet long, weighing between 10 and 30 kilograms. A graduate student at Virginia Tech discovered the mostly intact fossil in Northern Zimbabwe and it was unearthed over two digs in 2017 and 2019.

The findings of the research were published in the journal Nature in August. The skeleton is only missing some of the dinosaur’s hands and portions of the skull. The international team who were part of the research includes palaeontologists from the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe, the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe, and Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.

“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. These are Africa’s oldest-known definitive dinosaurs, roughly equivalent in age to the oldest dinosaurs found anywhere in the world. The oldest known dinosaurs — from roughly 230 million years ago, the Carnian Stage of the Late Triassic period — are extremely rare and have been recovered from only a few places worldwide, mainly northern Argentina, southern Brazil, and India.” said Christopher Griffin, who discovered the fossil, in a press statement.

The researchers’ findings suggest that Mbiresaurus stood on two legs and had a head that was small in comparison to those legs, like many of its dinosaur relatives. The dinosaur had small triangle-shaped teeth that were serrated, which suggests that it could have been a herbivore or an omnivore.

“We never expected to find such a complete and 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,” added Griffin.

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