National Geographic News
Some scientists who study dinosaurs spend a lifetime hoping to find the perfect trophy fossil. Kristina Curry Rogers, a 27-year-old graduate student at Stony Brook University in New York, got lucky.
In 1998 she joined a team of researchers to help excavate and identify a vast trove of ancient bones that were being unearthed in northwestern Madagascar, where Stony Brook professor David Krause has led six fossil-hunting expeditions since 1993. "We dug into the hillside, and the more you dug, the more bones we found," she said.
Once those bones were sorted out and identified, they offered an astonishing prize: the nearly complete skeleton of a young dinosaur that lived about 70 million years ago, when the last of the giant dinosaurs were at the height of their development.
The treasure included almost a complete set of 80 to 90 vertebraefrom the neck, back, hip, and tailas well as two nearly complete skulls, one from a juvenile and one from an adult. "Only a few of the tail bones were missing," said Curry Rogers, a Ph.D. candidate at Stony Brook who is now working at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.
"A specimen like this is incredible. You just don't expect to find something so amazing," she said.
Curry Rogers is the lead author of a paper on the discovery published in the August 2 issue of the journal Nature. The co-author is her mentor at Stony Brook, associate professor Catherine A. Forster.
After a detailed analysis, the two researchers concluded that the skeleton is from a new species in a family of giant dinosaurs called titanosaurs.
Titanosaurs are a sub-group of the long-necked, plant-eating sauropods. Other sauropods included the behemoth Brachiosaurus that's a popular exhibit in science museums.
"It was a challenge for us to determine that we had found a single animal, for the purposes of naming a new species." Curry Rogers said. "I have been traveling all over the world for two yearsto India, Argentina, Moscow, and other placesto do a comparative analysis."
The first titanosaur fossil from Madagascar was identified more than a century ago by a Frenchman named Charles Deperet, according to Curry Rogers. Titanosaurs were the last family of sauropods to evolve. By the close of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago, titanosaurs lived all around the world, and were especially common in the Southern Hemisphere.
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