Some 25 years after its bones were first uncovered in the frosty wilds of east Greenland, a new species of dinosaur, Issi saaneq, has been described by palaeontologists, who have revealed it to be the region’s oldest-known plant-eating dinosaur.
The creature, closely related to the Plateosaurus commonly found in Germany, is named after the local Inuit words for “cold bone”, and it lived some 214 million years ago in the Late Triassic, at a time when Earth was undergoing massive change.
“It is exciting to discover close relatives of the long-known Plateosaurus, of which more than 100 individuals were found here in Germany until now,” says Oliver Wings, co-author of the new study in Diversity and a palaeontologist from Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg, Germany.
Issi saaneq’s discovery comprises two almost-complete skulls that were originally uncovered in the 1990s, and were misidentified as belong to Plateosaurus. That is until Victor Beccari, a palaeontological masters candidate from the NOVA School of Science and Technology in Lisbon, Portugal, decided to take a further look.
“The two skulls are unique in many aspects of their anatomy, such as their bone proportions and shapes” says Beccari. “These specimens certainly pertain to a new species, Issi saaneq.”
Beccari and team scanned the skulls using micro-CT and segmented them, to visualise the internal structures of the bones. The resulting 3D models have been made publicly available online via MorphoSource.
The team found the skulls belonged to a juvenile and a potential sub-adult, and that they differ from any other sauropodomorph described so far. Tantalisingly, they share distinct similarities with known Brazilian dinosaurs such as Macrocollum and Unaysaurus, both of which lived almost 15 million years before Issi. Beccari hopes the geographical and temporal dispersal of these distinct but related dinosaurs may one day help palaeontologists trace their evolution.
Issi saaneq: why Greenland?
The researchers say Issi’s presence in Greenland can be explained by the major climatic and geological changes occurring at the time, from the ripping apart of Pangaea to warming temperatures.
“Back then, the Earth was going through climate changes that allowed for the first plant-eating dinosaurs to reach Europe and beyond,” explains research coordinator Lars Clemmensen, from the University of Copenhagen.
Octávio Mateus, who supervised Beccari in his research, says this is the third new vertebrate fossil species the team named for Greenland. “Which shows the scientific importance of that territory,” he says, noting that it’s particularly special for a masters student to lead such a pioneering palaeontological discovery.
“It’s spectacular to have a thesis in our Master in Paleontology at the NOVA University of Lisbon with these results and quality.”
Amalyah Hart has a BA (Hons) in Archaeology and Anthropology from the University of Oxford and an MA in Journalism from the University of Melbourne.
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