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First Dinosaur Fossils Ever Found in Saudi Arabia Reveal a T. Rex Relative and a Massive Plant-Eater

Jan 07, 2014 04:04 PM EST
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Scientists working in Saudi Arabia have formally identified the first dinosaur fossils ever to have come from the nation.

The find is not only a rarity for Saudi Arabia, but for the entire Arabian Peninsula, where to-date only a handful of bone fragments have been found. Like all other dinosaur bones found in the region, the specimens from Saudi Arabia were fragments as well, excavated in the northwest part of the country along the coast of the Red Sea.

The bones were identified as a string of vertebrae from the tail of a Brontosaurus-like sauropod and teeth from a carnivorous dinosaur, likely a theropod. Scientists dated the fossils to be about 72 million years old, placing them from the Late Cretaceous era. The theropod is thought to be a 6-meter-long bi-pedal meat-eater distantly related to Tyrannosaurus rex, while the sauropod was a plant-eating titanosaur that may have been up to 20 meters in length.

"This discovery is important not only because of where the remains were found, but also because of the fact that we can actually identify them," said Benjamin Kear of Sweden's Uppsala University, who is the lead author a paper on the find published in the journal PLOS One.

"Dinosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in the Arabian Peninsula, with only a handful of highly fragmented bones documented this far. Indeed, these are the first taxonomically recognizable dinosaurs reported from the Arabian Peninsula," Kear said.

Tom Rich, a paleontologist at Museum Victoria in Australia, commented on the geographic restraints that make finding dinosaur fossils in the region difficult, namely that when dinosaurs were alive, the Arabian landmass was largely underwater.

"Dinosaur remains from the Arabian Peninsula and the area east of the Mediterranean Sea are exceedingly rare because sedimentary rocks deposited in streams and rivers during the age of dinosaurs are rare, particularly in Saudi Arabia itself," Rich said.

"The hardest fossil to find is the first one," Rich added. "Knowing that they occur in a particular area and the circumstances under which they do, makes finding more fossils significantly less difficult."

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