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New species of stegosaur is oldest ever found

By Stephen Feller
New species of stegosaur is oldest ever found
Researchers at London's Natural History Museum determined that bones found in the mountains of Morocco come from the oldest stegosaur yet discovered, Adratiklit boulahfa. Photo courtesy of The Natural History Museum

Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Researchers have discovered a new dinosaur -- a previously unknown type of stegosaur -- in the mountains of Morocco.

Based on a few vertebrae and an upper arm bone, a team of researchers at London's Natural History Museum said Adratiklit boulahfa is the first stegosaur found in North Africa.

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The remains of the 186 million-year-old dinosaur, detailed in a paper published in the journal Gondwana Research, were found in the Middle Atlas Mountains in Morocco, an area that has not been studied for fossils very extensively, researchers said.

"Despite being from the African continent, our phylogenetic analysis indicated that, surprisingly, Adratiklit is more closely related to European stegosaurs than it is to the two genera known from Southern Africa," Tom Raven, a doctoral student who assisted with the analysis, said in a news release.

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The team said it recognized that the bones came from a stegosaur, but were surprised by where it came from. Most stegosaurs, a species of armored dinosaurs called thyreophorans, have come from Southern Africa, North America, Asia and Europe.

The new specimen, the researchers say, more closely resembles stegosaurs from Europe, rather than those in Southern Africa.

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"The discovery of Adratiklit boulahfa is particularly exciting as we have dated it to the middle Jurassic," said Dr. Susannah Maidment, a researcher at the museum. "Most known stegosaurs date from far later in the Jurassic period, making this the oldest definite stegosaur described and helping to increase our understanding of the evolution of this group of dinosaurs."

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When the Earth was divided into two supercontinents, Laurasia and Gondwana, most members of the thyreophorans were thought to have been in Laurasia -- because those lands are where most stegosaurs have been found.

The researchers say that, rather than their having been rare on those lands, it's possible they just have not been found yet because of geological factors and collection efforts.

"What is exciting about this is that there could be many more thyreophoran dinosaurs to find in places that until now have not been excavated," Maidment said.

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