An international team of paleontologists led by Virginia Tech has discovered the oldest dinosaur known to Africa, found with its skeleton nearly intact in northern Zimbabwe.
The sauropodomorph — a long-necked dinosaur — was named Mbiresaurus raathi, according to a paper published last week in the journal Nature. Its skeleton suggests it was about 6 feet long with a long tail, and weighed between 20 and 65 pounds. Only some of its hand and portions of the skull are missing.
The dinosaur stood on two legs, with small, serrated and triangle-shaped teeth in a small head. This suggests the dinosaur was an herbivore or perhaps an omnivore.
“These are Africa’s oldest-known definitive dinosaurs, roughly equivalent in age to the oldest dinosaurs found anywhere in the world,” said Christopher Griffin, who completed his studies at Virginia Tech in 2020 and is now at Yale doing postdoctoral work.
“The oldest known dinosaurs — from roughly 230 million years ago, the Carnian Stage of the Late Triassic period — are extremely rare and have been recovered from only a few places worldwide, mainly northern Argentina, southern Brazil, and India.”
Paleontologists from the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe, the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe, and Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil also worked on the project.
“The discovery of the Mbiresaurus is an exciting and special find for Zimbabwe and the entire paleontological field,” said Michel Zondo, a curator and fossil preparer at the Zimbabwe museum. “The fact that the Mbiresaurus skeleton is almost complete makes it a perfect reference material for further finds.”
The dinosaur skeleton, along with additional fossils, will be permanently kept at the museum in Bulawayo.
Image: Andrey Atuchin/Virginia Tech