An international team of scientists from three countries recently uncovered evidence of a huge dinosaur whose heavy footfalls could have been heard two hundred million years ago, trampling the plains of what is now the small country of Lesotho.
Their name is an aptly large mouthful to digest: Kaventapus ambrokhohohali. They are a part of the Megatherapod family group which includes the notorious Tyrannosaurus rex.
The tracks were found on an ancient land surface in the Maseru district which is covered in” ripple marks” and “desiccation tracks” indicating the presence of a prehistoric water hole or river bank at the site.
Their three-toed footprints are 57 cm long and 50 cm wide. These are the largest tracks found so far in Africa.
The size of the footprints’ owners has been calculated at nine metres (30 ft) in length and standing just under three metres tall at the hip.
The tracks of numerous much smaller therapod dinosaurs were also found in the same rock surface.
The footprints have been dated to the early Jurassic epoch, an era in which most therapods were estimated to be much smaller. Most therapods of this early period have been calculated to have been three to five metres in length.
It was mostly during the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous, about 145 million years ago, that evidence of other prehistoric giants such as T. rex has been found.
One of the senior researchers at the scene was Dr Fabien Knoll from the University of Manchester. Said he:
“The latest discovery is very exciting and sheds new light on the kind of carnivore that roamed what is now southern Africa.
‘That’s because it is the first evidence of an extremely large meat-eating animal roaming a landscape otherwise dominated by a variety of herbivorous, omnivorous and much smaller carnivorous dinosaurs. It really would have been top of the food chain.”
He added: “In South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Namibia, there is good record of theropod footprints from the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic epochs, In fact, there are numerous paleosurfaces where footprints and even tail and body impressions of these, and other animals, can be found. But now we have evidence this region of Africa was also home to a mega-carnivore.”
Well, why not? It’s exciting but also mind-boggling to think of some of the massive and fearsome creatures who roamed our mountains so many aeons ago.
Says Dr Lara Sciscio from the University of Cape Town:
“This discovery marks the first occurrence of very large carnivorous dinosaurs in the Early Jurassic of southern Gondwana- the prehistoric continent which would later break up and become Africa and other landmasses. This makes it a significant find. Globally, these large tracks are very rare. There is only one other known site similar in age and sized tracks, which is in Poland.”
If we could time travel we would have to be pretty careful where we landed our time machine… or risk finding it trampled beyond recognition!
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