Mbiresaurus raathi was an early type of sauropodomorph, a group of herbivorous long-necked dinosaurs that includes the largest animals ever to walk the Earth.
The ancient creature was about 1.8 m (6 feet) long and weighed in at 9 to 29.5 kg (20-65 pounds).
Mbiresaurus raathi stood on two legs, had a long tail and a relatively small head.
It sported small, serrated, triangle-shaped teeth, suggesting that it was an herbivore or potentially omnivore.
“The discovery of Mbiresaurus raathi fills in a critical geographic gap in the fossil record of the oldest dinosaurs and shows the power of hypothesis-driven fieldwork for testing predictions about the ancient past,” said Dr. Christopher Griffin, a paleontologist at Yale University.
The nearly complete skeleton of Mbiresaurus raathi, missing only some of the hand and portions of the skull, was found in the Pebbly Arkose Formation in northern Zimbabwe.
“We never expected to find such a complete and well-preserved dinosaur skeleton,” Dr. Griffin said.
“The discovery of Mbiresaurus raathi is an exciting and special find for Zimbabwe and the entire paleontological field,” said Michel Zondo, a curator and fossil preparer at the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe.
Found alongside Mbiresaurus raathi were an assemblage of Carnian fossils, including a herrerasaurid dinosaur, early mammal relatives such as cynodonts, armored crocodylian relatives such as aetosaurs, and archaic reptiles known as rhynchosaurs, again typically found in South America and India from this same time period.
“The unfolding fossil assemblage from the Pebbly Arkose Formation in the Cabora Bassa Basin, which was hitherto known for paucity of animal fossils, is exciting,” said Darlington Munyikwa, deputy executive director of the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe.
“A number of fossil sites are waiting for future exploration were recorded, highlighting the potential of the area to add more valuable scientific material.”
“These are Africa’s oldest-known definitive dinosaurs, roughly equivalent in age to the oldest dinosaurs found anywhere in the world,” Dr. Griffin said.
“The oldest known dinosaurs are extremely rare and have been recovered from only a few places worldwide, mainly northern Argentina, southern Brazil, and India.”
“Early dinosaurs like Mbiresaurus raathi show that the early evolution of dinosaurs is still being written with each new find and the rise of dinosaurs was far more complicated than previously predicted,” said Dr. Sterling Nesbitt, a paleontologist at Virginia Tech.