The fossils of a dinosaur previously thought to have only lived in South America have been discovered in Tanzania, throwing into question scientific theories about the reptiles’ habitat.
Scientists who dug the fossil named it Shingopana Songwensis, derived from the Kiswahili term shingo pana (wide neck), and the region where it was discovered, the Songwe region of the Great Rift Valley.
“This discovery suggests that the animals of northern and southern Africa were very different in the Cretaceous Period,” said Judy Skog, a programme director at the National Science Foundation, which funded the study.
“At the time, southern African dinosaurs were more closely related to those in South America and were more widespread than we knew.”
Believed to be a member of the gigantic, long-necked sauropods, which are the giants of the dinosaur family, its fossils were estimated to be from the Cretaceous Period, noted for being the last portion of the “Age of Dinosaurs”, about 70-100 million years ago.
After performing numerous analyses on the skeletons, the team of palaeontologists determined that the animal was different from other dinosaurs identified before, including those previously discovered in other parts of Africa.
“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 other species with which it is most closely related,” study author Eric Gorscak, a doctoral student in biological sciences at Ohio University, said in a statement.
Divisions between tectonic plates may explain the differences between dinosaurs. Evidence suggests that northern and southern Africa were divided during the Crateceous era.
“We are still only scratching the surface with regard to understanding the diversity of organisms and the environments in which they lived on the African continent during the Late Cretaceopus,” study co-author Patrick O’Connor said. Part of the Shingopana fossils were excavated in 2002 by scientists affiliated with the Rukwa Rift Basin Project, an international effort led by Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine researchers.
Later, more portions of the dinosaur’s skeletons, including its neck vertebrae, ribs, and the lower jaw, were recovered. It is believed that the dinosaur roamed ancient southern Africa alongside another gigantic plant-eating dinosaur named Rukwatitan Bisepultus, which weighed nearly 8,000kgs. It was discovered by the same team of scientists in 2014.