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DinoNews: First Fossils from Saudi Arabia

Near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Baptiste Marcel, via Wikimedia Commons).
Near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Baptiste Marcel, via Wikimedia Commons).
Most people think of desert sand when they envision Saudi Arabia. The country’s geography is dominated by the Arabian Desert. There are virtually no rivers or lakes, and daytime temperatures can reach 129 degrees. Dinosaur fossils are rare there. Only a handful a fossilized bones have ever been found.

This isolated tooth evidences the first identifiable carnivorous theropod dinosaur from the Arabian Peninsula. Abelisaurids like this specimen have been found in the ancient Gondwanan landmasses of North Africa, Madagascar and South America. (Maxim Leonov -- Palaeontological Institute, Moscow).
This isolated tooth evidences the first identifiable carnivorous theropod dinosaur from the Arabian Peninsula. Abelisaurids like this specimen have been found in the ancient Gondwanan landmasses of North Africa, Madagascar and South America. (Maxim Leonov — Palaeontological Institute, Moscow).
But an international team of scientists has just announced the first formally identified dinosaur fossils from Saudi Arabia. Several bones from the tail of a huge Brontosaurus-like sauropod dinosaur have been identified. Judging from the size of the bones, the animal may have been up to 20 meters in length.

The paleontologists (the scientists who study prehistoric life) have also identified a tooth from a meat-eating theropod dinosaur. Although distantly related to big Tyrannosaurus Rex, the tooth probably came from a type of dinosaur only about six meters long. The team found the bones in the northwestern part of the country along the coast of the Red Sea.

The teeth and bones are approximately 72 million years old. Now that paleontologists know where to look, future discoveries are more more likely. “The hardest fossil to find is the first one,” said Dr. Tom Rich, of Australia’s Museum Victoria.

One of the exceptionally rare tail vertebrae from Saudi Arabia’s first described giant titanosaurid sauropod. This dinosaur was probably in excess of 20 meters long when alive. (Tim Holland -- Kronosaurus Korner, Richmond).
One of the exceptionally rare tail vertebrae from Saudi Arabia’s first described giant titanosaurid sauropod. This dinosaur was probably in excess of 20 meters long when alive. (Tim Holland — Kronosaurus Korner, Richmond).
It’s All in the Lingo
Understanding the classification of different dinosaurs can be confusing, but for budding paleontologists who want to “dig in” a little bit, the fossils finds discussed in this article are a great place to start.

To get a handle on where the extinct animals discussed above fit in, envision a dinosaur family tree that develops two main divisions.

One of the two main divisions is termed Saurischian. All the dinosaurs in the saurischian line developed from a common ancestor and share the same kind of hip structure. In fact, the word “saurischian” actually means “lizard-hipped.”

Within the Saurischian line, there are two major groups.

One of these groups is called the Theropods and includes predators such as the famous T-Rex.

The other group is called the Sauropods and includes plant-eaters like Brontosaurus.

So, when scientists say they have found a tooth from a theropod, or tail bones from a sauropod, they are being specific. They could have said the tooth came from a saurischian or simply from a dinosaur and still have been correct. But those terms are less specific.


Source: Press Release, Uppsala University, Sweden