Scientists in South Africa have discovered the fossils of a new dinosaur species that weighed in at over 26,000 pounds — twice the size of an adult African elephant.
The dinosaur has been dubbed Ledumahadi mafube, which means "a giant thunderclap at dawn" in Sesotho, a Bantu language that is spoken in the region of the country where the remains were unearthed. The discovery was made by researchers at South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand, who published their extraordinary findings in the journal Current Biology.
Although the bones were unearthed over 30 years ago, they remained unstudied for several years at the University. Now, after compiling the remains, researchers have confidently concluded that this species of dinosaur was "the largest land animal to have ever existed at the time it lived in the early Jurassic," according to the study.
Believed to have been a herbivorous dinosaur that existed over 200 million years ago in South Africa, the Ledumahadi mafube has never before been described in any scientific literature. An analysis of the growth rings present on the dinosaur's fossilized bones leads researchers to estimate that this particular creature had reached its maximum growth at the time of death and had lived to be almost 14-years old.
According to the study, this species of dinosaur had evolved from a smaller, bipedal ancestor known as sauropods, but was "transitional" itself. This means that while it walked on all fours and crouched, much like a cat, it could also spring up on its hind legs when needed, like if hunting for food. It also had incredibly thick forelimbs so that it could support its enormous body.
Perhaps most fascinating is what this discovery can tell us about geography 200 million years ago. Since Ledumahadi mafube is a close relative of dinosaurs that were native to Argentina, this suggests that at some point all of the world's continents were still assembled in one great landmass known as Pangea during the Early-Jurassic period.
In 2012, the study's co-author and the professor of paleontology at the University, Jonah Choiniere, returned to the original site where the bones were first discovered where he and his graduate student, Blair McPhee, found even more remains.
In an interview with CNN, the study's co-author and professor of paleontology and the University, Jonah Chioniere, explained these findings are changing the way scientists look at sauropods.
"The evolution of sauropods isn't quite as straightforward as we once thought," he said. "It appears that sauropodomorphs evolved four-legged postures at least twice before they gained the ability to walk with upright limbs, which undoubtedly helped make them so successful in an evolutionary sense."
Responding to the discovery, South Africa's Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane released a statement in which she said, "Not only does our country hold the Cradle of Humankind, but we also have fossils that help us understand the rise of the gigantic dinosaurs." She goes on to emphasize that these particular findings emphasize South Africa's commitment to making significant scientific breakthroughs.
Choiniere told CNN that he and his team of researchers are continuing their search of the same area where the dinosaur was first discovered in the hopes of finding even more fossils from the Triassic and Jurassic periods.