An international team of paleontologists discovered large fossilized footprints in the soil west of Lesotho in southern Africa. They belong to a new bipedal dinosaur species, a giant predator named “Kayentapus ambrokholohali“. As tall as four lions, nine meters long and three meters high at the hips, he would be the greatest theropod on the continent, where he lived 200 million years ago.
The discovery was made in western Lesotho by researchers from Cape Town (South Africa), Manchester (United Kingdom) and São Paulo (Brazil) universities. They have unearthed the largest footprint of three-toed paws found so far on the African continent: 57 cm long and 50 cm wide. Given these measurements, they deduced that it was a giant dinosaur group “mega-theropods”, the group that has one of the largest terrestrial carnivores that existed, the famous Tyrannosaurus rex.
A giant 200 million years old
The location of the discovery is also important, as these new footprints were found in a geological layer dating back to the early Jurassic, presumably on the site of a prehistoric river, according to the craters of desiccation of the earth. The researchers deduce that the Kayentapus ambrokholohali is believed to have crossed this soil nearly 200 million years ago.
This is the first time that there is evidence of the life of such a large dinosaur from that time and in this area. Until now paleontologists thought that there were only dinosaurs three to five meters long on average that lived there. Much smaller than the nine-meter giant who left his footprints on this parched riverbed.
Unique site in Africa
According to Lara Sciscio, a researcher at the University of Cape Town, “these large footprints are very rare in the world. There is only one other known site also dating back 200 million years where similar traces have been discovered. It is located in Poland.”
This discovery thus marks “the first presence of very large carnivorous dinosaurs at the beginning of the Jurassic in southern Gondwana, the prehistoric continent that later broke down to form Africa and the other continental masses,” explains the paleontologist.
Indeed, it was only from the Cretaceous, 55 million years later (nearly 145 million years ago), that other megatropods, such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex, began to appear according to the fossils and footprints found so far.