For three decades, the fossilized remains of a dinosaur remained tucked away in a museum after being collected in 1978 by paleontologist Professor James W. Kitching. It was thought that the fossilized remains were nothing special, and nothing we hadn’t seen before and it was assumed that the fossilized remains belonged to an odd example of Massospondylus, one of the first dinosaurs to reign at the start of the Jurassic period, the researchers explained.
However, after researchers from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg took another look at the fossilized remains, they found that the species was not just a weird example of the Massospondylus, but an entirely new genus and species of a sauropodomorph dinosaur.
Called Ngwevu intloko, the dinosaur is tough to have lived between 191 and 201 million years ago, during the Early Jurassic epoch in what is now South Africa.
The scientists described the dinosaur as a bipedal creature with a big body, long slender neck, and a relatively small head. It is believed that the newly-identified species measured around 3 meters (10 ft.) from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail.
The creature is thought to have been an omnivore, meaning it fed both on plants and smaller animals. Professor Paul Barrett and colleagues reassessed the specimens studying its distinctive skull and partial skeleton and successfully identified it as an entirely new genus and species of sauropodomorph.
“Lots of other scientists have already looked at it. But they all thought that it was simply an odd example of Massospondylus, one of the first dinosaurs to reign at the start of the Jurassic period,” Professor Barrett revealed.
Experts say that the discovery of the new dinosaur specimen will offer experts a better understanding of the transition between the Triassic and Jurassic periods which took place around 200 million years ago. This period is known as a time of mass extinction, experts now argue that far more complex ecosystems flourished in the early Jurassic period than previously acknowledged.
This new species is interesting because we thought previously that there was really only one type of sauropodomorph living in South Africa at this time. We now know there were actually six or seven of these dinosaurs in this area, as well as a variety of other dinosaurs from less common groups. It means that their ecology was much more complex than we used to think,” Professor Barrett explained.
“Some of these other sauropodomorphs were like Massospondylus, but a few were close to the origins of true sauropods, if not true sauropods themselves,” he added.