The “Highland Giant” of the Karoo Basin

Femur of Giant Dinosaur Put on Display

The fossilised bones of the largest dinosaur ever found in South Africa were put on display at the Witwatersrand University Origins Centre this week.  The fragmentary remains, including a colossal partial femur (thigh bone), represent a plant-eating dinosaur that once roamed the land that is now known as the Lesotho Highlands some 200 million years ago.  The size of this, as yet, unnamed dinosaur is certainly impressive.  At an estimated fourteen tonnes, it was twice as heavy as Tyrannosaurus rex, but its sheer bulk is of limited interest to palaeontologists.  What is much more significant is that this specimen indicates the presence of very large dinosaurs in this part of the world during the Early Jurassic (Hettangian stage), it extends the faunal mix that existed in this region of the super-continent Gondwana, just a few million years after the Triassic/Jurassic extinction event.

A Scale Drawing Comparing the South African Sauropod to Well-known Dinosaurs and a Human (with Dog)

Dipolodcus, T. rex and the

Dipolodocus, T. rex and Aardonyx celestae are compared

 

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University Origins Centre

The picture above also includes Aardonyx, a basal Sauropodomorph from South Africa.  Aardonyx has been described as a transitional form of lizard-hipped plant-eater, showing a trend in this part of the Dinosauria for heavier and heavier animals that eventually evolved into obligate quadrupeds.

To read an article about the discovery and naming of Aardonyx: South Africa’s Transitional Dinosaur Fossil

Nick-named The “Highland Giant”

Nick-named the “Highland Giant” the first fossils of this huge basal Sauropod were found during excavations under the Caledon River for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project some twenty years ago.  The bones were so bulky that they were stored in separate storage rooms.  It was only after the fossil specimens were relocated to new storage facilities that it was realised that the fossils represented the remains of a single, individual dinosaur.

Commenting on the fossil find, Dr. Jonah Choiniere, a senior researcher at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Witwatersrand University stated:

“This is the biggest dinosaur we have ever found.  We do not know what the species is, hopefully we will know in a year or so.  We are not sure if this is a new species.”

Dr. Jonah Choiniere with Some of the Fossil Material

Dr. Choiniere with the fossils of the  "Highland Giant"

Dr. Choiniere with the fossils of the “Highland Giant”.

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University Origins Centre

Other fossils collected in the same region have been associated with this giant Sauropod, the picture above shows Dr. Choiniere with some of the fossils, having a person in the picture provides a handy scale.  Recently, there have been a number of important dinosaur discoveries from South Africa.  For example, in August Everything Dinosaur reported on the naming of Pulanesaura (basal Sauropod) and in June, team members produced an article featuring Sefapanosaurus.

Pulanesaura article: Pulanesaura – A Case of “Four Legs Being Better than Two”

Sefapanosaurus article: New Sauropodomorph from South Africa

Fossils of the Early Jurassic Sauropod Have Come to Light Over Twenty Years

Fossils of the "Highland Giant" include claws and a vertebra.

Fossils of the “Highland Giant” include claws and a vertebra.

Picture Credit: Witwatersrand University Origins Centre

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