New dinosaur discovered in SA
Johannesburg - Scientists at the University of Witwatersrand on Wednesday announced the discovery of a new species of dinosaur, that appears to link the earliest dinosaurs with the large plant-eating sauropods.
"It's one of the big jewels South Africa has," Dr Adam Yates, from the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research, told journalists in Johannesburg.
The vegetarian dinosaur is an estimated 195 million years old and about seven metres long; and was discovered in the town of Senekal, near Bethlehem in the Northern Free State.
It has been named Aardonyx celestae, which means "Earth Claw" ("Aard" - Afrikaans for Earth, plus "Onyx" - Greek for claw) - an appropriate name, given that the large, earth-encrusted foot claws were some of the first bones to be discovered at the site.
"We think it was a biped, a slow moving heavy bodied creature with a huge barrel chest and a small head to strip foliage," Yates said.
A reconstruction of the skull of Aardonyx. The known parts are shaded in. (Adam Yates, University of Witwatersrand)
According to Yates it was a "living fossil" that would have been old, even amongst other dinosaurs.
"The earliest ancestral dinosaur - the great grand-daddy of all
dinosaurs - walked on two legs. This one is intermediate between
those bipedal forms and the true gigantic sauropods," he explained.
"It tells us the change over was not smooth, and the evolution was complicated."
The discovery was made by a Wits postgraduate palaeontology student, Marc Blackbeard, who began excavating two sites in the Northern Free State, five years ago, under the leadership of Yates.
"We knew that there was likely to be some fossils in these 'bone beds' discovered by James Kitching about 20 years ago, but we did not expect to find anything of this magnitude," said Yates.