Canny Maphanga, News24 – 27 September 2018
A new species of dinosaur, roughly double the size of a large African elephant, has been discovered in the Free State.
“The plant-eating dinosaur, named Ledumahadi mafube, weighed 12 tonnes and stood about four metres high at the hips.
Ledumahadi mafube was the largest land animal alive on Earth when it lived,” Wits University spokesperson Schalk Mouton said in a statement.
Ledumahadi is Sesotho for “a giant thunderclap at dawn”.
The research into the dinosaur was revealed on Thursday by Wits Professor Jonah Choiniere, Dr Jennifer Botha-Brink from the South African National Museum in Bloemfontein and Dr Emese Bordy from UCT.
The project also had a strong international component with the collaboration of Professor Roger BJ Benson of Oxford University and Dr Blair McPhee, currently living in Brazil.
Choiniere, who lead the team, said the dinosaur’s name was reflective of the place in which it was found as well as its stature.
“The name reflects the great size of the animal as well as the fact that its lineage appeared at the origins of Sauropod dinosaurs,” said Choiniere.
“It honours both the recent and ancient heritage of southern Africa,” Choiniere added.
Scientists describe the tale told by the fossil as “fascinating”.
“The first thing that struck me about this animal is the incredible robustness of the limb bones,” said McPhee.
“It was of similar size to the gigantic Sauropod dinosaurs, but whereas the arms and legs of those animals are typically quite slender, Ledumahadi’s are incredibly thick. To me, this indicated that the path towards gigantism in Sauropodomorphs was far from straightforward, and that the way that these animals solved the usual problems of life, such as eating and moving, was much more dynamic within the group than previously thought,” McPhee added.
“Ledumahadi mafube is one of the closest relatives of Sauropod dinosaurs. Sauropods, weighing up to 60 tons, include well-known species like Brontosaurus,” Mouton said.
The latest discovery has revealed more about the Sauropods.
“The team also showed that many earlier relatives of Sauropods stood on all fours, that this body posture evolved more than once, and that it appeared earlier than scientists previously thought,” Mouton added.
The researchers said the dinosaur lived in an area around Clarens.
“We can tell from the properties of the sedimentary rock layers in which the bone fossils are preserved that 200 million years ago, most of South Africa looked a lot more like the current region around Musina in the Limpopo province of South Africa, or South Africa’s central Karoo,” Bordy explained.
Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane’s view is that the discovery showcases the value of “palaeontology in South Africa to the world”.
“This is another example of South Africa taking the high road and making scientific breakthroughs of international significance on the basis of its geographic advantage, as it does in astronomy, marine and polar research, indigenous knowledge, and biodiversity,” Kubayi-Ngubane said.