Dino track in Lesotho

For the woman who led the team of palaeontologists who discovered the three- toed footprint of a giant theropod dinosaur, it was a childhood dream come true.

Lara Sciscio (31) and her team – which included academics from Britain’s University of Manchester and Brazil’s Universidade de São Paulo – came across the dazzling new find in Lesotho.

The discovery sparked the interest and attention of scientists from all over the world.

The find proves the existence of a ferocious carnivore that roamed the southern African region in the Early Jurassic era.

“Our team was really excited as we knew it was something very unusual. I think we were all in shock and giddy disbelief,” Sciscio said, a postdoctoral student researcher at the University of Cape Town.

Sciscio, a geoscientist, said it was an unexpected, extraordinary discovery and “almost unreal”.

It has been her childhood dream to study rocks and ancient paleoenvironments, and she did not expect to find a giant theropod trackway.

Sciscio said that for the past few years, she and her team worked on a larger fossil footprint project which incorporates South African and Basotho fossil sites.

“This particular project, on the very large tracks, started early 2016 and we did our main analytical field work towards the end of 2016,” she said.

The 57cm long and 50cm wide footprint provides an estimate on the colossal size of the carnivore. Estimated to be 3m tall at the waist and 8m to 9m long, this dinosaur is four times the size of today’s largest African predator, the lion.

The footprints of the megathoropod, called Kayentapus ambrokholohali, were found while the scientists were heading towards another site indicated by Professor David Ambrose, a former research fellow at the University of Limpopo.

Sciscio named the dinosaur after Ambrose. Ambrose is derived from the Latin name Ambrosius, meaning “immortal”.

The species is a precursor to the well-known Tyrannosaurus rex.

The tracks were found on a paleosurface – over 200 million years old – which was probably a watering hole or a river. The researchers established this due to the “ripple marks” and “dessication cracks” on the surface.

The tracks, Sciscio said, are more tangible than fossils and give a view of the animal in a more holistic way.

The dinosaur roamed the land during the Early Jurassic period, when southern Africa was still part of the Gondwana supercontinent.

Researchers believe it preyed on herbivorous dinosaurs in the region.

Despite an abundance of prints, the team is still trying to find fossils to match.

Sciscio will be continuing her postdoctoral research on tracks and trackways within the Karoo Basin.

“I do hope that I can continue to produce interesting and useful science in the years to come as I am still an early-career

“I also hope that I can continue to pursue my active interests in the Late Triassic to Early Jurassic geology and ichnology of southern Africa,” she added.

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