A stocky, carnivorous dinosaur with an unusual head crest that has been identified from bones collected in India belongs to a significant line of predatory dinosaurs known from the southern continents.
The discovery represents the first skull ever assembled of a dinosaur of any kind in India. “It’s fabulous to be able to see this dinosaur, which lived as the age of dinosaurs came to a close,” said University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno. “It was a significant predator that was related to species on continental Africa, Madagascar and South America.”
Stored at a regional geological survey office in Jaipur, India, the 65-million-year-old bones turned into a dinosaur before paleontologists’ eyes. The joint Indian-American research was led by Sereno, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Jeff Wilson of the University of Michigan, Suresh Srivastava of the Geological Survey of India and Ashok Sahni of Panjab University. The research was funded by the National Geographic Society.
The team has named the new animal Rajasaurus narmadensis, which means “regal dinosaur from the Narmada”; the bones were found near the Narmada River in western India. The new species will be described in the Contributions of the Museum of Paleontology of the University of Michigan (August 2003). Casts of the dinosaur’s skull will be donated by the team to Panjab University and the Geological Survey of India.
Co-leader Jeff Wilson said the 30-foot-long dinosaur was heavy and strong and would have pursued a diet that included the long-necked sauropod dinosaurs that roamed the Narmada region. It had a distinctive look. “There is a bone that protruded from the top of its head, so we think it had some kind of horn on topÑits closest relatives had either one horn or two,” he said.
Dinosaur skeletons are rare in India, in part because the terrain renders many of the key geological formations inaccessible to digging. Scant traces of the new species had been gathered in India over the past century, Sereno said, but no reconstruction was possible. Then, in 1983, Sahni and Srivastava led a major expedition to the Narmada region, collecting hundreds of bones. Working with the Indian paleontologists, Sereno and Wilson decided to take a look at the collection.
The team members found bones of both meat-eating dinosaurs (theropods) and plant-eating dinosaurs (sauropods), but focused on the meat-eater when they found the center part of a skull. “Then we found the left hip, then a right, then a sacrum,” Sereno said.
A detailed map drawn by Srivastra in 1983 had documented the position of each fossil bone as it lay in the field. “So we got a marker and started coloring in each bone on the map. As we sat there all dirty on the floor, we suddenly realized that a partial skeleton of a meat-eater had been discovered,” Sereno said. “We could see one individual dinosaur.”
The dinosaur lived in India before the Himalayas existed. “Rajasaurus offers us a glimpse of the animals that lived on India during its northern migration towards Asia at the end of the dinosaur era,” Wilson said.
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