Researchers discover first species of dinosaur that lived in Greenland 214 million years ago


Living reconstruction of Issi saaneq. Credit: Victor Beccari

The two-legged dinosaur Issi saaneq lived around 214 million years ago in what is now Greenland. It was a medium-sized, long-necked herbivore and a predecessor to the sauropods, the largest land animals to ever live. It was discovered by an international team of researchers from Portugal, Denmark and Germany, including the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg (MLU). The name of the new dinosaur pays homage to the Inuit language of Greenland and means “cold bone”. The team reports on their discovery in the journal The diversity.

The original remains of the dinosaur – two well-preserved skulls – were first discovered in 1994 during an excavation in east Greenland by paleontologists from Harvard University. One of the specimens was originally believed to be from a plateosaurus, a well-known long-necked dinosaur that lived in Germany, France and Switzerland during the Triassic Period. Only a few finds from eastern Greenland have been prepared and extensively documented. “It is exciting to discover a close relative of the famous Plateosaurus, of which more than a hundred have already been found here in Germany,” said co-author Dr Oliver Wings of MLU.

The team performed a micro-CT of the bones, which allowed them to create digital 3D models of internal structures and bones still covered in sediment. “The anatomy of the two skulls is unique in many ways, for example in the shape and proportions of the bones. These specimens certainly belong to a new species,” says lead author Victor Beccari, who carried out the analyzes at the ‘NOVA University of Lisbon.

Credit: Victor Beccari

The herbivorous dinosaur Issi saaneq lived around 214 million years ago at the end of the Triassic Period. It was around this time that the Pangea supercontinent shattered and the Atlantic Ocean began to form. “At the time, the Earth was experiencing climatic changes that allowed the first herbivorous dinosaurs to reach Europe and beyond,” says Professor Lars Clemmensen of the University of Copenhagen.

The two skulls of the new species come from a juvenile individual and an almost adult individual. Apart from the size, the differences in bone structure are minor and only concern the proportions. The new Greenlandic dinosaur differs from all other sauropodomorphs discovered so far; However, it has similarities to the dinosaurs found in Brazil, such as the Macrocollum and Unaysaurus, which are almost 15 million years older. Together with the German Plateosaurus, they form the group of Plateosaurids: relatively graceful bipeds reaching lengths of 3 to 10 meters.

Researchers discover first species of dinosaur that lived in Greenland 214 million years ago

Skulls of Issi saaneq. Credit: Victor Beccari

The new findings are the first evidence of a distinct Greenlandic dinosaur species, which not only adds to the diverse range of Upper Triassic (235-201 million years ago) dinosaurs, but also allows us to better understand the evolutionary pathways and timeline of the iconic group of sauropods that have inhabited Earth for nearly 150 million years.

Once the scientific work is completed, the fossils will be transferred to the Danish Museum of Natural History.

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More information:
Victor Beccari et al, Issi saaneq gen. and sp. Nov. — A new Sauropodomorphic Upper Triassic (Norian) dinosaur from Jameson Land, east-central Greenland, The diversity (2021). DOI: 10.3390 / d13110561

Provided by the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg

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