| Paleontologist Paul Sereno with a model of the head of the dinosaur in Chicago. (AFP)
London, June 2: A wrinkly faced, meat-eating dinosaur discovered in Africa has given scientists new clues about the creation of the world’s continents.
As well as filling gaps in Africa’s fossil record of carnivorous dinosaurs, the Saharan find has revealed how Africa, South America and India separated millions of years later than thought.
A new species, some 95 million years old, the creature has been named Rugops primus, meaning “first wrinkle face”.
About 30ft long, the animal had a short, round snout and small, delicate teeth, according to a description published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Biological Sciences.
The head of Rugops had a covering of armour and was riddled with arteries and veins, leaving a criss-cross of grooves on the skull. Scientists who found a fossil skull believe the creature was not designed for fighting or bone crushing, and probably scavenged rather than hunted for food.
Two neat rows of seven holes along the dinosaur’s snout might have been used to anchor an ornamental crest or horns, speculates Paul Sereno, from the University of Chicago, who led the expedition.
“This may have been a scavenger with head gear,” he said. “It’s really a beautiful intermediate species of the group that later evolved into the first horned predators.”
Rugops provides fresh evidence about the splitting apart of an ancient continent consisting of what today is Africa, Madagascar, South America and India.
The fossils of a group of southern carnivorous dinosaurs called Abelisaurids have been found in South America and India, but were almost unknown in Africa. This led some experts to suggest that Africa had fully split from the original ancient “supercontinent” of Gondwana as early as 120 million years ago.
But Rugops, and another older relative, Spinostropheus gautieri, also discovered by Sereno in the same region, provide evidence that Africa and the other southern continents drifted apart about 100 million years ago.
Co-author Jeffrey Wilson, from the University of Michigan, said: “Until the continents fully separated, dinosaurs like Rugops and other animals used narrow land bridges to colonise adjacent continents and roam within a few degrees of the South Pole.”