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New 168-million-year-old stegosaurus species unearthed by scientists

Rhys Blakely, August 22, 2019 7:00PM The Times

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What a stegosaur could have looked like, as seen in the 1999 BBC fantasy documentary "Walking With Dinosaurs". Picture: BBC media_cameraWhat a stegosaur could have looked like, as seen in the 1999 BBC fantasy documentary "Walking With Dinosaurs". Picture: BBC

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Fossil hunters have identified a new species of stegosaur.

The armoured dinosaur, with a formidable* array* of bony plates along its spine, roamed Earth 168 million years ago.

The new specimen is the oldest stegosaurus ever found and the first to be unearthed in North Africa. Its discovery, in the Middle Atlas Mountains in Morocco, promises to rewrite the history of one of the best-known dinosaur groups.

The fossil hunters were part of the British Natural History Museum’s biggest dinosaur hunt in decades.

They found a few vertebrae and an upper arm bone and quickly recognised them as belonging to the stegosaur group.

The new species' vertebrae. Picture: media_cameraThe new species’ vertebrae. Picture: Natural History Museum

They have named the dinosaur Adratiklit boulahfa. “Adras” is Berber* for mountain while “tiklit” means lizard. Boulahfa refers to the area in the mountains where the specimen was found.

Palaeontologist* Susannah Maidment led the expedition.

“The discovery of Adratiklit boulahfa is particularly exciting as we have dated it to the middle Jurassic ­period,” Dr Maidment said.

“Most known stegosaurs date from far later in the period, making this the oldest definite stegosaur described and helping to increase our understanding of the evolution of this group of dinosaurs.”

The species belongs to the thyreophoran group. Dinosaurs in this group had armour lined in rows along the body.

The world's most complete Stegosaurus fossil was unveiled at the Natural History Museum in 2014 in London, UK. Picture: Getty Images media_cameraThe world’s most complete Stegosaurus fossil was unveiled at the Natural History Museum in 2014 in London, UK. Picture: Getty Images

It had previously been thought that when Earth’s land mass was divided into two supercontinents, Laurasia and Gondwana, the thyreophorans were more common in Laurasia.

The new specimen, found in a rock formation from Gondwana, may lead to those ideas being revised.

Dr Maidment said: “There could be many more thyreophoran dinosaurs to find in places that have not been excavated.”

Gondwana and Laurasia were the two big land masses on Earth, shown here during the Jurassic period, when stegosaurs roamed the land. Picture: United States Geological Survey media_cameraGondwana and Laurasia were the two big land masses on Earth during the Jurassic period, when stegosaurs roamed the land. Picture: United States Geological Survey

The find in Morocco came after a mission to North America, which took Dr Maidment and her team to a site in Wyoming, US, that is yielding tonnes of fossils 150 million years old. The fossil hunters spent months in the northern reaches of the Morrison Formation, a vast expanse of Jurassic sedimentary rock stretching across the American west.

“Stegosaurus, diplodocus, brachiosaurus, bronto­saurus, all the ones that you could name when you were seven are known from the Morrison,” Dr Maidment said.

The Wyoming expedition is the most significant fossil hunt by the Natural History Museum since 1987, when a team in the ­Sahara uncovered a “spectacular dinosaur graveyard”.

MEET STEGOSAURUS
Stegosaurs are known to have lived in the late Jurassic period, which is around 150 million years ago.

This new species lived about 168 million years ago, in the middle Jurassic period.

Stegosaurs were about the size of a small bus: up to 9m long, 4m high and weighing up to 5 tonnes.

Dacentrurus, thought to be the newly described stegosaur's closest relative. Picture: Jaime A. Headden via Wikimedia Commons media_cameraDacentrurus, the new stegosaur’s closest known relative. Picture: Jaime A. Headden

Thanks to two rows of bony plates along the spine, they looked bigger than they were. The plates were attached to the skin rather than to the skeleton.

The name Stegosaurus comes from the Greek words stegos meaning roof and sauros meaning lizard.

Their armour and size would have made them look pretty scary if you’d been around back then to come across one, but as they were herbivores they probably weren’t very ferocious dinosaurs, except from the point of view of a plant!

Scientists believe they might only have been able to move at a maximum speed of 7kmh, which is about human walking speed.

They might not have been that smart as their brains were about the size of a ping pong ball.

Scientists know they lived in North America and now know they also lived in Europe and North Africa.

Originally published in The Times and reproduced here with permission.

GLOSSARY

  • formidable: tough and frightening
  • array: range
  • Berber: the language of the Berber people from Northwest Africa
  • palaeontologist: scientist who studies fossils

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Where did the fossil hunters find this stegosaurus?
  2. What were Laurasia and Gondwana and why are they in this story?
  3. Which dinosaurs have the team found in Wyoming?
  4. Describe a stegosaurus’ appearance, size and weight.
  5. How fast could a stegosaurus run and would it eat you if it caught you?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Rewriting history
This new information means that many information books will need to be updated to include these new details.

Use your school library or the internet to find some previously published information about the stegosaurus. One or two paragraphs outlining where and when they lived should be enough.

Read through this information carefully and then refer back to the article. Does this information need to be updated given these new findings?

Rewrite the paragraph or section of the information that needs updating with the new information.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
Did you hear? Kids news and Studio 10 are looking for Australia’s best kids’ newsreader! Entries close this Sunday. If you are tempted to enter but haven’t had the chance to write a 30-second news story, this is the perfect article for you.

Most people love to hear about dinosaurs and learning new information about them. Rewrite this article into a 30-second news script. You will not need to include all the information from the article so choose the main idea of this story and the most interesting points to get the message across. You will need to come up with an interesting opening to your segment that captures your audience’s attention and then follow it up with more details of the news story. 

Practice delivering your script using expression. Remember to maintain eye contact with your audience.

If you wish to enter the competition, record yourself delivering this news segment. You can find details of how to enter on the Kids News home page.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, The Arts – Drama, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight all the openers you can find in blue. Discuss if they are powerful and varied openers or not. Why do you think the journalist has used a mix of simple and power openers? Would you change any, and why?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Name this stegosaurus with something catchier than Adratiklit boulahfaits. What’s your favourite dinosaur?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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