For the first time, remains of diplodocus-like sauropod have been found in India.
Sauropods are the largest of the dinosaurs. Their characteristic long necks, long tails and massive bodies made them the world’s largest ever land animals with some reaching up to 70–100 tonnes.
Recent discoveries show that India was once home to some of the biggest, belonging to a group known as titanosaurs. Among these Indian giants are Bruhathkayosaurus (longer than 35 metres; weighing more than 80 tonnes) and Isisaurus (18m; 15 tonnes).
The new fossils form a partial spinal column from a dicraeosaurid sauropod found in the Thar Desert near the state of Rajasthan. Palaeontologists believe that the region was a shoreline running along the ancient Tethys Ocean during the age of dinosaurs.
Dicraeosaurid sauropods tend to have smaller bodies and relatively short necks. They are closely related to the diplodocidae sauropods and often have elaborate spiked neck vertebrae like the barbed necks of Amargasaurus and Bajadasaurus.
The new find has been dubbed Tharosaurus indicus and is described in a paper published in Scientific Reports. The research was led by palaeontologists from the Indian Institute of Technology
At 167 million years old, the dicraeosaurid is not only the first of its kind found in India, it is also the oldest yet found. It hails from the middle of the Jurassic – a geological period that spanned 201–145 million years ago.
Tharosaurus had some unique features not seen in other dicraeosaurids. Its neck bones have long depressions in them, and its neural spines are believed to have jutted out in pairs along its neck in directions unique to this species.
The researchers suggest that the region where the fossils were found may have played an important role in the evolution of neosauropods. These long-necked herbivores are a clade suggested in 1986 by Argentine palaeontologist José Bonaparte which includes the massive titanosaurs and sauropods which lived across the planet from South America to Africa and Australia.
During the Jurassic, India – along with Antarctica, Africa, Madagascar, South America and Australia – formed the ancient supercontinent Gondwana.
“Palaeobiogeographic considerations of Tharosaurus, seen in conjunction with the other Indian Jurassic sauropods, suggest that the new Indian taxon is a relic of a lineage that originated in India and underwent rapid dispersal across the rest of Pangaea,” the paper’s authors write. “Here we emphasize the importance of Gondwanan India in tracing the origin and early evolutionary history of neosauropod dinosaurs.”
The researchers say the find also highlights the growth of Indian palaeontology, which is currently deprived of resources but may fill significant gaps in our understanding of how dinosaurs lived and spread around the world.