SOUTH AFRICA: New dinosaur discovery

The story of evolution continues to be told with the recent discovery in South Africa of a new species of dinosaur called Aardonyx celestae. Also known as Earth Claw a name derived from its gargantuan-sized feet.

The species name celestae was given to acknowledge the work of Celeste Yates, wife of the primary researcher, who prepared much of the fossil.

Aged close to 195 million years and seven metres long, the herbivore was discovered at a site outside the town of Senekal, where two other dinosaurs have previously been discovered.

The findings were published this month in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B, a London-based peer-reviewed journal.

The species is important as the Aardonyx was an animal close to the gigantic sauropod dinosaurs, said Dr Adam Yates, an Australian paleontologist and primary researcher based at the Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).

Sauropods were the largest backboned animals to walk on land, and had long legs, tree-trunk legs and whip-like tails. Yates said Earth Claw provides insight into what the first steps towards becoming a sauropod involved.

The Aardonyx celeste species walked on its hind legs but could drop to all fours. The newly discovered creature weighed about 1,100 pounds and was about 10-years-old when it died.

"My analysis of the bone microstructure in the ribs and shoulder blades of the Aardonyx suggests that while it had experienced at least seven spurts or cycles of growth, it was not a fully grown animal," said Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan, author of the book Dinosaurs of Africa and a zoologist at the University of Cape Town.

The dinosaur's bones were initially found a masters student at Wits, Marc Blackbeard, while he was working on the site five years ago. He said there was always a chance of finding fossils in the bone beds that were discovered by late Professor James Kitching almost 20 years ago. "But we did not expect to find something of this magnitude".

There was, however, a huge amount of work to be done before celebrating.

"'The main problem that we found during the excavation process was that within the bone beds, the bones were densely packed on top of each other and some of them were fragile. We had to use extreme care to make sure they did not disintegrate," Blackbeard told University World News.

Blackbeard said a lot happened to dinosaurs. The creature he discovered could have been trampled after death or possibly was washed away in floods.

As Wits university and South Africa celebrated the announcement of the new discovery, University World News spoke to Celeste Yates, who works preparing fossils at the Institute for Human Evolution at Wits.

Yates brushed, scrubbed and dusted the fossil bones as a volunteer for three years, through two pregnancies. "It was a very hard work. It became scary when I went into labour working on the last set of bones, but I am absolutely thrilled and I feel much honored to have a dinosaur named after me," she enthused.