ATHENS, Ohio -- Majungatholus atopus had a face so ugly, it was worthy only of a mother's love -- and that of the team of scientists who have recovered an unusually well-preserved specimen of the large predatory dinosaur in Madagascar. The find provides new information about a dinosaur family previously found only in South America and India and offers an alternative to long-held theories of how the Earth's continents split millions of years ago.
The discovery was reported in the May 15 issue of the journal Science by researchers from the New York Institute of Technology, Ohio University in Athens, the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook, the University of Pennsylvania and the Universite d'Antananarivo in Madagascar.
Scientists recovered pieces of the animal's tail and a near-complete skull, and although the skull bones were scattered over a 2-meter area, they were remarkably well-preserved, says Lawrence Witmer, an assistant professor of anatomy in Ohio University's College of Osteopathic Medicine and co-author of this new study.
"People usually think the best type of fossil is an intact specimen, but that's not true," Witmer says. "Intact fossils don't allow scientists to see an animal's internal structures. This fossil is special because, not only was it found as separated bones, it also was so well-preserved, we can actually fit the bones together like a puzzle."
Witmer is studying fiberglass casts of the fossils, working with the study's lead author Scott Sampson, an assistant professor of anatomy at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine of New York Institute of Technology.
It appears the animal was buried during a flood soon after its death, protecting the remains from scavenging and decomposition, says David Krause, professor of anatomical sciences at SUNY Stony Brook and leader of the 1996 expedition team that made the discovery.