Thursday, July 5, 2007

Dinosaurs roamed Kenya, say scientists

Dinosaurs roamed Kenya, say scientists

March 10 2005 at 10:39AM

By Bogonko Bosire

Nairobi - Scientists on Kenya's first scientific dinosaur expedition have unearthed hundreds of bones in an area previously known for the discovery of ancient human remains, team members said on Wednesday.

Kenyan and United States paleontologists conducting the dig said they found more than 200 dinosaur specimens, including three from large carnivorous theropods thought to be related to the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex, in north-west Kenya.

The bones date to the mezozoic era more than 200 million years ago and are the first concrete evidence that dinosaurs inhabited what is now Kenya before early humans who lived there tens of millions of years later, they said.

'The discovery ... is a milestone in the study of evolution and early life in Kenya'
The excavation was conducted by a team from the University of Utah and the National Museum of Kenya in July and August of 2004 at Lokitaung Gorge near Lake Turkana where large numbers of early human fossils have been unearthed.

"The discovery ... is a milestone in the study of evolution and early life in Kenya," said Emma Mbua, the chief paleontologist at Kenyan museum.

"This is watertight evidence that dinosaurs lived in Kenya more than 200 million years ago, apart from early man, whose existence, according to discoveries in Kenya, dates to about 4,2 million years ago," she said.

"We didn't find complete skeletons, but we did recover approximately 200 fossils of dinosaurs and giant crocodiles," said Scott Sampson, the curator of paleontology at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City.

"Preliminary examination suggests the fossils represent dinosaurs from the Cretaceous, the final period of the mesozoic and a poorly-known interval for all of Africa," he said.

The specimens recovered come from several dinosaur species, including the theropods, one or two forms of giant plant-eating sauropods or brontosaurs and a smaller bodied, two-legged herbivore akin to a duck-billed dinosaur, Sampson said in a preliminary report on the expedition.

In addition, the team collected jaw fragments with teeth from at least two species of crocodiles - "one of them a true giant," he said in the report which has been presented at the Utah museum but has not yet been published.

The expedition was inspired by the happenstance discovery in 1968 of what is was believed to be the the first dinosaur bone in the region by Frank Brown, a University of Utah archaeologist, who was en route to a prehistoric site in Ethiopia's Omo Valley.

"At that time, the experts discovered rock-bearing dinosaur fossils, which gave an indication of a possibility of recovering dinosaur remains," Mbua said.

In the years that followed, visitors to the "Turkana Grits," a rock formation on the western shore of Lake Turkana near the town of Lokitaung, reported seeing unusual bone fragments but no scientific dinosaur expedition was conducted there until last year, according to Sampson.

The discovery of the fossils in Kenya, as well as earlier dinosaur and hominid finds in Tanzania and the well-publicised recovery of biped remains in Ethiopia, lends weight to arguments that east Africa was the cradle of life not only for humans but animals as well, Mbua said.

During the mesozoic era, a period of about 180 million years between 251 and 65,5 million years ago, dinosaurs are thought to have ruled the land, while oceans were populated by large marine reptiles and pterosaurs the air.

Scientists believe dinosaurs roamed the earth before the tectonic shifts that split the two super-continental plates of Laurasia into North America, Europe and Asia and Gondwanaland into Australia, India, South America, Africa, and Antarctica. - Sapa-AFP

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