Oldest dinosaur fossil found in Africa was discovered in Zimbabwe

The oldest dinosaur fossil found in Africa, named the Mbiresaurus raathi, was recently discovered in Zimbabwe.

The oldest dinosaur fossil found in Africa, named the Mbiresaurus raathi, was recently discovered in Zimbabwe.

  • Mbiresaurus raathi was the name given to a plant-eating dinosaur fossil that was found in Zimbabwe.
  • It is a fossil of a small- to medium-sized, lightly built animal.
  • It has been provisionally identified as a Late Triassic (Carnian) fossil.

According to a newly released study, the oldest dinosaur fossil found in Africa was recently discovered in Zimbabwe – that of a plant-eating dinosaur that roamed the Earth about 235 million years ago.

The study by lead author Christopher Griffin, a doctor of philosophy candidate at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University’s Department of Geosciences, provisionally identified the find as a Late Triassic (Carnian) fossil.

Named the Mbiresaurus raathi, it is a fossil of a small- to medium-sized, lightly built animal that was one of the earliest dinosaurs to dominate the Southern Hemisphere.

It was named after Dr Mike Raath, who helped discover the first fossils in Zimbabwe, and the Mbire District in Mashonaland Central, where it was found.

“It’s one of the first dinosaurs to walk on Earth. This particular one was found in Pangea (a supercontinent that brought together South America, India, Africa, Eurasia, North America, Antarctica and Australia,” Griffin said.

Carnians existed an estimated 237 to 227 million years ago. They became extinct because of a climatic condition referred to as the “Carnian Pluvial Event”, which was replaced by a more humid climate, his published report states.

Using modern technology, Griffin has engaged in the study of fossils in Zimbabwe since 2015. His research was foregrounded by a 1990 study in the Zambezi Valley by Raath.

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“There is a certain rock that is associated with old fossils and using Google Maps, we managed to locate places where we could dig. Unlike in the past when others (Raath and Jack McIntosh) would comb a whole bush, we knew where to look,” Griffin told this reporter on the sidelines of his presentation in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in June 2019.

Griffin’s first find encouraged him to dig more and recently, his team found components linked to a skull.

“We collected about a thousand bones in 2015 in an area of about half a square kilometre. That led to more findings in 2018,” he said.

In 2019, Griffin travelled around Zimbabwe to address archaeologists and science enthusiasts about his project and at the time, he claimed to have found a 97% complete skeleton.

Before his discovery, what was arguably regarded as the most complete skeleton ever found was that of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (1990), which was discovered by Susan Hendrickson in South Dakota. At 90% complete, it was auctioned in October 1997 for about R141 million ($8.3 million), the highest amount ever paid for a dinosaur fossil. It’s now a permanent feature at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.

The almost complete species he claimed to have found, was discovered in the Dande Valley and in the past, there were interesting finds in Zimbabwe, making it a central part of the study of dinosaurs in Africa.

The Dande Valley is situated in the northern parts of Zimbabwe, near to the Zambezi River. The area brings together areas that border with Zambia and Mozambique.

He said:

Zimbabwe is a very central place if you want to study the origins of the dinosaurs. Some species have been found here before and for this particular find, we went to the Dande Valley.

First find in Zimbabwe

Around 1965, the first find in Zimbabwe was made when schoolchildren found strange-looking bones on their way from home in Nyamandhlovu, 40 kilometres northwest of Bulawayo.

They reported it and it grabbed the attention of Raath. He led an excavation to discover what would later be known as Syntarsus Rhodesiensis four years later.

He classified it as primitive carnivorous”, relatively small in size.

“In most cases, ordinary people find unique-looking things and I encourage that if one comes across such, they should contact archives or museum experts. That is how some amazing things are found,” Griffin added.

Dinosaur trackways

Foot tracks of the Syntarsus Rhodesiensis were later found in the same area, Nyamandlovu, in 1972. They were believed to be about 220 million years old.

Larger footprints were located in the Zambezi Valley around Mana Pools and Chewore in 1984. They were said to be between 145 and 170 million years old.

More than 700 different species of dinosaurs have been identified and named.

However, paleontologists believe there are many more new and different dinosaur species that are still to be discovered.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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