Paleontologists have discovered a new dinosaur species that walked on earth some 100 million years ago. The dinosaur named Rukwatitan bisepultus is believed to have weighed as much as two elephants and belongs to a group of big-bodied sauropods called titanosaurs that lived in the middle of the Cretaceous Period.
Scientists first spotted the dinosaur's fossils embedded in a cliffwall in the Rukwa Rift Basin in southwestern Tanzania in East Africa and, with the help of coal miners and professional excavators, were able to unearth the ribs, limbs, vertebrae and pelvic bones of the prehistoric animal.
Many fossils of titanosaurian sauropod dinosaurs, which are known for their large body sizes and long necks, have been discovered around the world particularly in South America where thirty titanosaur species have been unearthed. Few, however, have been found in Africa, which makes the newly discovered fossil one of the few titanosaurian specimens that was unearthed in the African continent.
Matthew Lamanna, from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, said that the discovery of the Rukwatitan is important as it is one of the very few dinosaurs from the Cretaceous era that were found from a part of the world considered as among the biggest "black holes" in the understanding of dinosaurs.
Paul Filmer, from the Division of Earth Sciences of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the study that was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology on Sept. 8, concurred.
"This titanosaur finding is rare for Africa, and will help resolve questions about the distribution and regional characteristics of what would later become one of the largest land animals known," Filmer said.
By performing CT scans on the discovered remains and comparing the fossils with those of the other sauropods, the researchers found that the dinosaur had unique features that suggest it was different from other dinosaurs that have already been identified before, including those whose fossils were found in Africa. The researchers also found that the Rukwatitan bisepultus weighed between 10 and 15 tonnes or about the weight of two elephants and that its neck bone was hollow and filled with air.
"Using both traditional and new computational approaches, we were able to place the new species within the family tree of sauropod dinosaurs and determine both its uniqueness as a species and to delineate others species with which it is most closely related," said Eric Gorscak, from the Ohio University, who led the study.