New sauropodomorphic dinosaur species identified in South Africa

A fossil dinosaur specimen preserved at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, was analyzed again following an erroneous identification made years ago.
Paleontologist Paul Barrett, along with several South African colleagues, aided in particular by student Paul Barrett, has identified a new species of sauropodomorph, as well as a new genus.

The new dinosaur has been named Ngwevu intloko, which can be translated as “gray skull” in the Xhosa language. As Barrett also specifies, the samples of this dinosaur were collected in the areas of Johannesburg some thirty years ago and have been examined by other scientists and paleontologists. Eventually, it was concluded that it was a specimen of Massospondylus, a sauropodomorph and one of the first dinosaurs to appear at the beginning of the Jurassic.

By analyzing the fossil remains more closely, Barrett and Chapelle understood that it is a new species. The differentiation was possible thanks to the fact that there are various dead Massospondylus specimens at various stages of growth, from the embryo to the adult specimens. The remains were represented by “extraordinarily well preserved” pieces of the skull. It was a bipedal dinosaur, quite large, with a long, slender neck but a small square head.

It measured about three meters from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail and was probably omnivorous. This specimen must have lived around 200 million years ago, on the border between the Triassic and the Jurassic, a period characterized by a mass extinction phase.

The discovery is important because until a few years ago it was thought that there was only one type of sauropodomorph with regard to the area of ‚Äč‚Äčtoday’s South Africa. With recent discoveries, including this one, “we now know that there were actually six or seven of these dinosaurs in this area, as well as varieties of other dinosaurs from less common groups. It means that their ecology was much more complex than we thought. Some of these other sauropodomorphs were like the Massospondylus, but some were close to the origins of true sauropods, if not true sauropods themselves,” as Professor Barrett points out.

The study was published in PeerJ.