Two-legged Mbire dinosaur shakes world of archaeology Artistic reconstruction of Mbiresaurus raathi, which has been discovered in Mbire, Zimbabwe

Isdore Guvamombe in MBIRE

It is rare, it is the oldest ever dinosaur skeleton found in Africa and has indeed whet the appetite for world acclaimed archeologists to find more.

Archeologists have found and excavated remains of a two-legged dinosaur from Kadzi River basin in Mbire district, Mashonaland Central, raising world acclaimed researcher’s appetite for more findings.

Named the Mbiresaurus Raathi, the dinosaur is believed to have lived more than 230 million years, before going extinct.

The latest findings are east of Mushumbi Pools, while there have long existed dinosaur footprints in Mukanga, to the north west, near Zimbabwe’s border with Zambia.

Of interest is that the excavations that started with an expedition in 2017 by a team of American archeologists, are within the radius of the Mbire-Muzabani Oil Project. The link between the oil and the dinosaur remains is both scientific and historical, as more acclaimed archelogists.

Kadzi is one of the biggest rivers in the Zambezi Valley. It starts from Guruve and cuts across Mbire on its final journey through Zambezi Valley to Cabora Bassa in Mozambique, near Chidodo.

It is along this river that archeologist Dr Chris Griffin, found the Mbiresaurus Raathi- the oldest ever dinosaur found in Africa- that stood at about a metre high on two legs and weighed more than 30kg.

There is evidence that it was a plant eating animal and one of the 8 types of dinosaurs that existed in the Zambezi Valley.

In an interview yesterday, Mbire Rural District chair, Alderman Robson Chidongo, said the council was excited by the findings but was worried by the clandestine way the excavations, were done.

“We are very much excited by this development but there is need to formalise it. As council we are the vanguard Mbire and all resources here but we were never consulted or told about the excavation process.

“Council is following up on the excavation with kin interest, because everything was done outside our knowledge. We know the remains were carried to Bulawayo, where the findings were launched outside our knowledge.

“We know the place they got it from but we feel we were left out in the process but going forward we are going to work with them and closely monitor the development,’’ said Alderman Chidongo.

Mbire RDC chair Alderman Robson Chidongo

Mbire RDC consultant Mr Phineas Mushoriwa said there was need for a more careful approach on handling findings.

“The council has always been aware of the existence of dinosaur footprint but never the remains. We need a museum in the Zambezi Valley in order to house all significant historical and archeological discoveries.

“The excitement is that the council is now working towards officially marketing this discovery in terms of attracting tourists.

“I wish to thank the archeologists for a good work done in Mbire. How good and how pleasant would it have been to have launched the findings in Mbire and not yonder Bulawayo, as what happened? All the same we anticipate more discoveries along the Angwa River basin, as footprints are dotted all over the place,’’ he said.

The latest remains are part of a huge assemblage of fossils from the Late Triassic that could help us understand how the period’s climate influenced the dispersal of early dinosaurs.

The dinosaur has been identified as a species of sauropodomorph, ancestral relatives of the sauropods — the huge, long-necked dinosaurs that walked on four legs. It was unearthed on the second day of an expedition to Mbire in the Zambezi Valley in 2017, when a femur sticking out of the ground, dug around it and discovered a hip bone.

“I kept digging, got more of the team to help out, and we recovered nearly the entire skeleton,” he says. “The rocks it was found in have been interpreted as a river deposit, and it may have been buried in a small-scale flood.”

It is part of a huge assemblage of fossils from the Late Triassic that could help us understand how the period’s climate influenced the dispersal of early dinosaurs. Based on the presence of other fossils in the assemblage, the team has dated Mbiresaurus raathi to around 230 million years ago, part of the Late Triassic called the Carnian stage. At that time, Zimbabwe was much further south than it is today, and part of the massive supercontinent Pangaea.

Latitude is said to have a big role in Pangaea’s climate, scientists suggest, because of the reduced influence of the sea on the single landmass.

Higher latitudes, like those at which Zimbabwe was located at the time, probably had greater humidity and abundant vegetation, in contrast to the more arid, unstable lower latitudes.

Mbire RDC Marketing and Investment Promotion Consultant Mr Phinius Mushoriwa at Kadzi River where dinosaurs were excavated but has now been deflowered by artisanal gold miners

These climatic bands are thought to have controlled the range of early dinosaurs, with most living within the temperate climate of southern Pangaea.

Dinosaurs are thought to have avoided the harsh deserts to the north of this zone, to which they weren’t well-adapted.

“Griffin and his team used this climatic line to help pinpoint a possible source of fossils. Their second clue about where to look came from a 1992 paper by Michael Raath that reported the discovery of fossils of the rhynchosaur, a Carnian-aged reptile, in the Pebbly Arkose Formation in the Dande area of northern Zimbabwe.

Raath also reported a single fragment of a bone he thought might be from an early dinosaur.

These discoveries meant that Zimbabwe had rocks from the right age to preserve fossils from this era.

The team used a geological map of the area to determine the location of those rocks and Google Earth satellite photos to pinpoint where they were exposed at the surface, before visiting sites to look for fossils.

At one site the researchers found hundreds of bones, mostly from rhynchosaurs, but also fragments they recognised as being from a dinosaur. It was here that Griffin spotted the protruding femur. Two expeditions, in 2017 and 2019, revealed an assemblage of animal remains, including those of a large carnivorous herrerasaurid dinosaur, ancestors of mammals called cynodonts and crocodile ancestors called aetosaurs.

The new Zimbabwean fossil find comes as Australian firm Invictus is next month expected to begin exploratory drilling for oil and gas across a vast section of the Cabora Bassa Basin, the area in which the fossil-rich rocks are deposited.

“It is my earnest hope that the necessary agreements are in place for the safety of the fossils, as well as for rehabilitation post exploration,” says Chinsamy-Turan.

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