Magazine article Science News

Out of Africa: Clues to Dinosaur Evolution

Magazine article Science News

Out of Africa: Clues to Dinosaur Evolution

Article excerpt

Paleontologists searching remote reaches of the Sahara have discovered the remains of two new species of dinosaurs that may help solve the mystery of how these reptiles evolved and when the continents separated. Paul C. Sereno of the University of Chicago led the team of researchers that uncovered the findings on a 4-month expedition to central Niger in 1993. They describe their discovery in the Oct. 14 SCIENCE.

Sereno's team found the remains of a meat-eating dinosaur, known as a theropod, that stretched 27 feet from head to tail and the partial skeleton of a four-legged, plant-eating dinosaur known as a sauropod. According to Sereno, both lived approximately 130 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period.

The researchers named the theropod Afrovenator abakensis and suggest that it resembles Allosaurus, a dinosaur that roamed North America about 150 million years ago. The new sauropod also may be related to a North American dinosaur of that period, Camarasaurus. The sauropod remains unnamed, awaiting the excavation of a more complete skull, Sereno explains.

What are these relatives of North American dinosaurs doing in the Sahara? In search of the answer, Sereno turned to the prevailing idea of how the continents separated. This theory holds that a supercontinent known as Pangaea covered most of Earth 300 million to 200 million years ago.

Pangaea began fragmenting into northern (Laurasia) and southern (Gondwana) landmasses about 180 million years ago; further separation of these landmasses into continents followed. …

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