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Two dinosaurs from Africa give clues to continents' split

The fossil skull of a wrinkle-faced, meat-eating dinosaur whose cousins lived as far away as South America and India has emerged from the African Sahara, discovered by a team led by University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno. The find provides fresh information about how and when the ancient southern continents of Africa, South America and India separated.

The new species, which is 95 million years old, and a second new meat-eating species Sereno found on a separate expedition, help fill in critical gaps in the evolution of carnivorous dinosaurs on Africa. The species are described in a paper published online June 2 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Biological Sciences. The July issue of National Geographic magazine also will include an article on one of the dinosaurs. Sereno's research was funded by National Geographic, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Pritzker Foundation and Nathan Myhrvold.

Sereno, a National Geogrpahic Explorer-in-Residence, has named the ancient skull Rugops primus, meaning "first wrinkle face." Measuring about 30 feet long in life, the animal had a short, round snout and small, delicate teeth, he said. It belongs to a group of southern carnivorous dinosaurs called abelisaurids.

The head of Rugops had a tough covering of scales or surface armor and was riddled with arteries and veins, leaving a crisscross of grooves on the skull. "It's not the kind of head designed for fighting or bone-crushing," Sereno said. Instead, he believes Rugops was a scavenger, using its head to pick at carrion rather than fighting other animals for food.

Sereno is puzzled by the presence of two neat rows of seven holes along the dinosaur's snout. He speculates that the holes anchored something ornamental, used by the animal for display. "This may have been a scavenger with head gear," he said. "It's really a beautiful intermediate species of the group that later evolved into the first horned preda
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1-Jun-2004


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