Issi saaneq – “Cold Bone” from Greenland

By | November 15th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

This month has seen another new species of sauropodomorph named and described. Issi saaneq (pronounced is-y sa-ah-neq), roamed what is now eastern Greenland around 2014 million years ago (Late Triassic), this new dinosaur has been named based on two fossil skulls believed to represent one juvenile and one older animal possibly a sub-adult. Ascribed to the Plateosauridae family and showing affinities to South American sauropodomorphs I. saaneq helps to extend our understanding of the evolution and development of these important early dinosaurs.

Computer generated models of skulls and a life reconstruction of Issi saaneq.
Digital interpretative reconstruction of the skulls NHMD 164741 and NHMD 164758 and living representation of Issi saaneq. Digital interpretative reconstruction of the skull NHMD 164741 in left lateral view (A). Digital interpretative reconstruction of the smaller skull NHMD 164758 in left lateral view (B). Digital interpretative reconstruction of skull NHMD 164741 in dorsal view (C). Living representation of Issi saaneq (D). Scale bar = 50 mm.

Originally Assigned to Plateosaurus

The skull fossils were found in the early 1990’s, during excavations of sediments representing lake shore deposits that make up part of the of the Malmros Klint Formation in Jameson Land, Greenland. The larger skull was found in 1991, the smaller skull, now believed to represent the same species was found subsequently along with numerous other fossils including skull material that has yet to be catalogued and described. The two skulls (specimen numbers NHMD 164741 and NHMD 164758), are now part of the vertebrate fossil collection of the Natural History Museum of Denmark. Postcranial material was also found in association with the smaller skull (NHMD 164758) and this could have come from the same animal, but these bones have also not yet been examined in detail.

When first found, it was thought that these fossils were examples of Plateosaurus (P. engelhardt which is now regarded as nomen dubium with fossil material assigned to P. trossingensis). As several new sauropodomorphs had been described in recent years, the researchers were able to tap into the wealth of new fossil data and confidently assign the skulls to a new genus.

Commenting on the significance of the find, lead author of the scientific paper, published in the journal “Diversity”, Doctor Victor Beccari (Universidade Nova de Lisboa), stated:

“The anatomy of the two skulls is unique in many respects, for example in the shape and proportions of the bones. These specimens certainly belong to a new species.”

Photograph of the skulls NHMD 164741 and NHMD 164758
Photograph of the skulls NHMD 164741 and NHMD 164758 (A) NHMD 164741 in left lateral view and (B) NHMD 164758 in left lateral view. The smaller skull (NHMD 164758) represents a juvenile, whilst the larger skull (NHMD 164741) represents an older juvenile or a young adult. Picture credit: Beccari et al.

“Cold Bone”

Issi saaneq is the first non-avian dinosaur to be named from fossils found in Greenland. The name comes from the local Inuit language, with “issi” meaning cold and “saaneq” meaning bone. This is a reference to the harsh and very unpleasant weather conditions associated with the fossil site. The bones of this dinosaur were cold to the touch and the field team were often “frozen to the bone” as they worked in the extremely chilly conditions.

Jameson Land and the Issi saaneq fossil site
Location map of Jameson Land, central east Greenland (A), the Issi saaneq quarry is circled in red and indicated by the number 2. Photograph of the outcrop from which the fossil material was excavated (B). The conditions endured by the various field teams were extremely challenging and harsh.

Affinities with South American Sauropodomorphs as well as Plateosaurus

Phylogenetic assessment indicates that Issi saaneq has affinities to Brazilian plateosaurids such as Macrocollum (M. itaquii) and the European Plateosaurus, being recovered as the sister clade of Plateosaurus in this study. It is the northernmost record of a Late Triassic sauropodomorph.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s blog post about the naming and scientific description of Macrocollum itaquii: How Did Some Dinosaurs Get Long Necks?

The discovery of Issi saaneq expands the known geographical range of these dinosaurs and broadens our knowledge about the evolution of the Sauropodomorpha.

The scientific paper: “A New Sauropodomorph Dinosaur from the Late Triassic (Norian) of Jameson Land, Central East Greenland” by Victor Beccari, Octávio Mateus, Oliver Wings, Jesper Milàn and Lars B. Clemmensen published in Diversity.