Scientists working in the ice, rock and bitter cold of Antarctica have unearthed the skeletons of two previously unknown species of dinosaurs – remnants of a warmer, greener time.
The news, announced Thursday, provides a significant addition to the cast of giant creatures that once roamed the region, filling in geographic gaps in dinosaurs’ long reign.
“It is a remarkable discovery about a time in Earth’s history when Antarctica was a very different place,” said Scott Borg of the National Science Foundation, which funded the research by St. Mary’s College in Moraga, the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City, and Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill, inform MercuryNews
Two teams of fossil hunters working separately in Antarctica have discovered bones of two types of unknown dinosaurs – a voracious meat-eater on the shores of an ancient island once buried beneath the sea, and a placid plant-eater on the slopes of what is now an inland mountain 13,000 feet high.
The scientists, who reported their finds Thursday, noted that although dinosaur remains had been found in Antarctica before, the new fossils revealed most clearly how Earth’s drifting continents had enabled some evolving creatures to wander a changing planet for millions of years.
In the case of the dinosaurs, however, the relocations were not enough to stave off extinction some 65 million years ago. In those prehistoric days, Antarctica’s climate was much like that of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest coast – moderately cool and hospitable to plants and many varieties of land animals.
Martin, a paleontologist at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, said the beast was probably a small version of the class of theropods that includes both Tyrannosaurus rex and the velociraptors of “Jurassic Park” fame, although a far smaller one.
It must have been a swift runner about 6 to 8 feet tall and weighed about 300 pounds, he said. It probably lived about 70 million years ago at the very end of the period known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, when some massive object from outer space – probably a giant asteroid or a comet – crashed into Earth and swiftly drove all the dinosaurs as well as much of everything else alive at the time into extinction, report SFGate.com
According to TheAge the 70 million-year-old fossils of the carnivore would have rested for millenniums at the bottom of an Antarctic sea, while remains of the 30-metre herbivore were found on the top of a mountain.
They would have lived in a different Antarctica – one that was warm and wet, the two teams of researchers, funded by the National Science Foundation, said.
The little carnivore – about 1.8 metres tall – was found on James Ross Island, off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Not yet named, the animal probably floated out to sea after it died and settled to the bottom of what was then a shallow area of the Weddell Sea, said Judd Case, of St Mary’s College, of California, who helped find the fossils.
Its bones and teeth suggest it may represent a population of two-legged carnivores that survived in the Antarctic long after other predators took over elsewhere on the globe.
A second team led by William Hammer of Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, found the 200-million-year-old plant-eater’s fossils on a 3900-metre mountain top near the Beardmore Glacier. Now known as Mount Kirkpatrick, the area was once a soft riverbed.
The animal would have been a primitive sauropod – a long-necked, four-legged grazer similar to the better known brachiosaurs. “This site is so far removed geographically from any site near its age, it’s clearly a new dinosaur to Antarctica,” Dr Hammer said.