Scientists have discovered the first dinosaur fossils in Saudi Arabia, where prehistoric remains are notoriously hard to find, even if oil isn't.
A team of researchers from Sweden, Australia and Saudi Arabia discovered 72-million-year-old fossils that, they say, constitute "the first taxonomically identifiable dinosaur material described from the Arabian Peninsula." The paleontologists explain in a paper titled, simply, "First Dinosaurs from Saudi Arabia," and published in the scientific journal PLOS One that "dinosaur remains from the Arabian subcontinent are exceedingly rare, and those that have been documented manifest indeterminate affinities."
Such fossils are so hard to come by because the region was mostly underwater when dinosaurs were alive. According to one of the report's authors, Australia's Dr. Tom Rich, the types of rocks that contain fossils rarely ended up in bodies of water in the area:
Dinosaur remains from the Arabian Peninsula and the area east of the Mediterranean Sea are exceedingly rare because sedimentary rocks deposited in streams and rivers during the Age of Dinosaurs are rare, particularly in Saudi Arabia itself.
The scientists identified two distinct types of dinosaurs based on the 72-million-year-old fossils. According to LiveScience, the researchers excavated sandstone to find two teeth and a string of tail vertebrae, which helped them identify the types of dinosaurs they had found:
Distinctive patterns on the teeth helped the team link the chompers to carnivorous abelisaurs, a dinosaur family common in northern Africa at the time. Abelisaurs were bipedal, like T. rex, and grew to about 20 feet (6 meters) tall. The vertebrae looked similar to those from titanosaurs, massive sauropods that lived on many continents, including Africa and South America. The species grew up to 65 feet (20 m) long.
Basically, the findings show that a brontosaurus-like sauropod (owner of the tail vertebrae) and carnivorous theropod (owner of the shed teeth) are the first dinosaurs to be absolutely identified in the Arabian peninsula. And now that the first fossils have been find, the scientists are confident that more discoveries will follow. According to Dr. Rich,
The hardest fossil to find is the first one. Knowing that they occur in a particular area and the circumstances under which they do, makes finding more fossils significantly less difficult.
Congrats on your new dinosaur bones, Saudi Arabia. We hope to meet them in museums soon.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.