New dinosaur is only the fourth to be described in Zimbabwe

Fossils found on the shore of Lake Kariba in northwest Zimbabwe have been identified as a new dinosaur which lived about 210 million years ago.

Musanka sanyatiensis is described in a paper published in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

The creature is known from the remains of a single hind leg which includes its thigh, shin and ankle bones.

Dinosaur fossil bone in red dirt
Musankwa sanyatiensis leg bones as they were discovered in the ground. Credit: Paul Barrett.

Analysis of the fossils suggests that M. sanyatiensis was an early member of the Sauropodomorpha – the group that includes the long-necked, massive, herbivorous sauropods and their ancestors. Creatures like M. sanyatiensis were much smaller than their descendants like Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus, and walked on two legs.

M. sanyatiensis lived during the latter part of the Triassic period (252–201 million years ago), right at the start of the reign of the dinosaurs.

Estimated to have been 1.5 m high at the hip and about 390 kg, M. sanyatiensis was one of the larger dinosaurs of the time.

The number of new dinosaur species found in Zimbabwe has doubled in the last two years. In 2022, Mbiresaurus raathi was named. M. raathi is another Sauropodomorph and is believed to be Africa’s oldest dinosaur.

With the discovery of M. sanyatiensis, Zimbabwe is now home to 4 unique dinosaur species.

“The main reason for the underrepresentation of African dinosaur fossils is ‘undersampling,’” says first author Paul Barrett from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. “Put simply, there have been fewer people looking for and unearthing dinosaurs in comparison with other regions of the world.”

Recent important finds in Africa, however, have put the continent on the palaeontological map and give a vital glimpse into the first tumultuous days of the dinosaurs.

In particular, Late Triassic to Early Jurassic sediments of Zimbabwe might be crucial for understanding the mass extinction event at the end of the Triassic which dramatically reshaped the biodiversity of our planet.

Sign up to our weekly newsletter

Please login to favourite this article.