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Dinosaur Species Revealed

August 16, 2003|Allison M. Heinrichs | Times Staff Writer

The first dinosaur skull discovered in India has been reconstructed by an international team of paleontologists, revealing that the bones belonged to a new horned dinosaur species that preyed on long-necked herbivores 65 million years ago.

The 30-foot meat eater had a small horn between its eyes and probably walked on its hind legs, similar to its distant cousin, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Named Rajasaurus narmadensis, or "regal dinosaur from the Narmada," it was discovered in 1983 near the Narmada River in western India by Suresh Srivastava of the Geological Survey of India and Ashok Sahni of Panjab University.

The Indian scientists stored the bones in the GSI office, where they remained until paleontologists Jeff Wilson of the University of Michigan and Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago reexamined the fossils 18 years later.

"There was a 'Eureka!' moment when we realized we had a partial skeleton of an undiscovered species," Sereno said in a statement released this week by National Geographic News.

Dinosaur fossils are rare in India because volcanic activity has covered potential dig sites, heavy population makes archeological studies difficult and erosion has erased much of the paleontologic record, said Bruce Runnegar, a UCLA paleontologist unrelated to the study.

Runnegar said the discovery could help shed light on what happened when the continents broke apart and drifted during the time of the dinosaurs.

"At the time when dinosaurs were living, India was a fast-traveling island that had left the Southern continents and was traveling north to eventually collide with Asia," Runnegar said, noting that the fossil find "provides a bio-geographical connection between the northern and southern continents."

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