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Exciting new East Cape dinosaur finds

ANCIENT BEASTS: Fossils of these four sauropods were recently found in the Kirkwood Formation in the vicinity of the Addo Elephant National Park. The dinosaurs are: A: brachiosaurid, B: camarasaurid, C: diplodocid, and D: dicraeosaurid. The scale bars equal one metre. Picture: SCOTT HARTMAN

MONSTERS that would dwarf today’s inhabitants once walked about in what is now the Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth. Scientists have found the remains of at least four types of sauropod dinosaurs around the Nelson Mandela Bay area, where they were previously not thought to have existed.

The discovery, the culmination of 20 years of fossil collecting, has allowed researchers to take a peek at what was happening 135 million years ago, at a time when sauropod dinosaurs were believed to be becoming extinct elsewhere.

Sauropods were some of the largest animals ever to walk the Earth, the University of the Witwatersrand’s Dr Jonah Choiniere said.

The find appears in the journal, Cretaceous Research, and Choiniere believes the discovery will fill in gaps in the dinosaur record for a period where there is little fossil evidence.

PhD student Blair McPhee discovered at least four types of these dinosaurs.

“This paper started as a side project of my PhD work,” McPhee said.

“But when I saw all the fossil material that Billy [de Klerk, from the Albany Museum in Grahamstown] and his colleagues had collected at the museum, I knew it was going to turn into a major piece of work.

“I was pleasantly surprised to find out just how diverse the sauropods of the Eastern Cape really were.”

What he found were a new tall giant brachiosaur, a smaller dinosaur, a long lean diplodocid with a whippy tail and a dicraeosaurid with long spines on its neck.

Choiniere said: “We don’t know if they are new species, but at least one of the vertebra has features you don’t see in other dinosaurs.”

De Klerk began collecting fossils from sites in the Kirkwood Formation in the region in the early 1990s.

He said there were “big chunks of bone still out there”.