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First Complete Fossil Of Fierce Prehistoric Predator Found In South Africa

Paleontologists from the South African Museum and the University of Washington have discovered what appears to be the first complete fossil of a gorgonopsid, a ferocious predator with both reptilian and mammalian characteristics that became extinct 250 million years ago.

A five-person team was searching on a mile-high plateau in South Africa's Karoo region when the discovery was made Nov. 17. Roger Smith, the museum's curator of geology, found a small bone fragment jutting from sedimentary layer associated with the latest part of the Permian period. The layer marks the geological boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods. Smith and Peter Ward, a UW geological sciences professor, excavated the site and found a complete skeleton of a gorgonopsid - or gorgon - probably assignable to the genus Rubidgea. The skeleton was prone, head curled to the right and all four limbs tucked beneath the body. The lower parts of the skeleton, including the pelvis and lower limb bones, extended into underlying rock.

Museum scientists rate the discovery as one of the most important paleantological finds in South Africa this century. Skulls are the most common gorgon fossil discovery, Ward said. Torso bones typically have been scattered, perhaps by scavengers after the animal's death.

The discovery is considered major because in more than 150 years of collecting in the Karoo, one of the richest fossil beds on Earth, this is the first complete gorgon skeleton found. The South African Museum's collection of more than 12,000 skeletons from the Karoo, a desert region, includes several hundred gorgon specimens, but none approach the completeness of the latest find. Gorgon fossils also have been found in China and Russia, but none are complete, according to museum director Michael Cluver, a paleontologist.

"It's like it just died and fell over. They never find anything like that," Ward said.

The discovery will allow for the first time insights into the anatomy of
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Contact: vinces@u.washington.edu
vinces@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
8-Dec-1998


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