March 17, 2011

Scientists Unearth First Dinosaur Fossil In Angola

Scientists working in Angola said they have discovered the country's first fossil of a dinosaur, and that it represents a new genus of long-necked, plant-eating sauropod, which is among the largest creatures that have ever walked the earth.

The international team that made the amazing find and identified the fossilized forelimb reported Wednesday in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences that it is from a previously unknown dinosaur, based on the unique skeletal makeup.

The fossil was found along with fish and shark teeth in the remains of an ancient sea bed from 90 million years ago. The team of researchers believe the dinosaur may have been washed into the sea and was torn to shreds by ancient sharks.

Based on the evidence that the dinosaur was that of a new genus, it has been named Angolatitan adamastor -- Angolatitan meaning "Angolan giant" and adamastor being the name of a sea giant from Portuguese sea myths.

The discovery marks a new exciting chapter in Angola's troubled history, as it is slowly emerging from decades of civil war. The PaleoAngola project that yielded the fossil, began back in 2005 and is the first paleontological expedition in Angola since the 1960s.

"Angola has had more than its share of civil war," Dutch project member Anne Schulp, of the Natuurhistorisch Museum Maastricht, told The Associated Press. Science hasn't been a priority, but "Angola is catching up right now," he said.

War broke out in Angola in the 1960s and civil war followed independence from Portugal in 1975. The hostilities ended in 2002 when the army killed rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. The country was left poverty-stricken, but the discovery of oil in recent years has sent the economy fast-forward.

Octavio Mateus of Portugal's Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Museum of Lourinha, and a member of PaleoAngola, said financial hardships have been the single greatest setback to research.

Mateus discovered the dinosaur in 2005, when research began there in Angola. In the years since, the excavation and research has been completed and a paper was written for review by scholars, concluding with Wednesday's publication.

Angolaitan adamastor fossil specimens are on public display at the Universidade Agostinho Neto.

Matthew F. Bonnan, a sauropod expert at Western Illinois University, said he expected the PaleoAngola team's claim to have discovered a new genus of dinosaur will hold up. "I think they've been very careful," he said, adding that the find could help bring a new understanding about how sauropods adapted to different environments.

Bonnan said that it was "really cool" to see new research of this type coming out of Angola. "The neat thing about dinosaur paleontology is that it's becoming more global." He said it is giving scientists a global perspective on the evolution of dinosaurs.

"The more people and places that we involve in science, the better off we all are," said Bonnan. Bonnan was not involved in the research in Angola.


Image Caption: PaleoAngola discovered the first dinosaur from Angola from sea cliffs near the village of Iembe, Bengo Province.   A paper describing and naming the new dinosaur, Angolatitan adamastor, was just published in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.


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