New dinosaur discovery in South Africa

24 June 2015

South African and Argentinian palaeontologists today announced the discovery of a new 200-million-year-old dinosaur from South Africa, and named it Sefapanosaurus, from the Sesotho word sefapano.

Found in the 1930s some 30km from the Lesotho border in the Zastron area of the Free State, it had remained hidden for decades among thousands of fossils in the largest fossil collection in South Africa at the Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

While visiting the ESI collections to look at early sauropodomorph dinosaurs, Dr Alejandro Otero, Argentinian palaeontologist and lead author, and a PhD student from the University of Cape Town, Emil Krupandan, noticed bones that were distinctive from the other dinosaurs they were studying.

Considered first to represent the remains of another South African dinosaur, Aardonyx, close scrutiny of the fossilised bones revealed that it is a completely new dinosaur.

Distinctive bones

One of the most distinctive features is that one of its ankle bones, the astragalus, is shaped like a cross. Considering the area where the fossil was discovered, the researchers aptly named the new dinosaur, Sefapanosaurus, after the Sesotho word sefapano, meaning “cross”.

The remains of the Sefapanosaurus include limb bones, foot bones, and several vertebrae. It is represented by the remains of at least four individuals in the ESI collections. It is considered to be a medium-sized sauropodomorph dinosaur – among the early members of the group that gave rise to the later long- necked giants of the Mesozoic.

“This find indicates the importance of relooking at old material that has only been cursorily studied in the past, in order to re-evaluate past preconceptions about sauropodomorph diversity in light of new data,” says Krupandan.

Scientific collaboration

It also highlights the importance of close collaboration between South African and Argentinian palaeoscientists.

Dr Jonah Choiniere, co-author and senior researcher in dinosaur palaeobiology at the ESI, says: “This new animal shines a spotlight on southern Africa and shows us just how much more we have to learn about the ecosystems of the past, even here in our own backyard.

“And it also gives us hope that this is the start of many such collaborative palaeo- research projects between South Africa and Argentina that could yield more such remarkable discoveries.”

The researchers are from South Africa’s University of Cape Town and Wits University, and from the Argentinian Museo de La Plata and Museo Paleontologico Egidio Feruglio. They made the announcement in a paper, titled: “A new basal sauropodiform from South Africa and the phylogenetic relationships of basal sauropodomorphs”, published online in the journal, Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society on 23 June.

Source: Wits University