South Africa: Hatching the Secrets of 200 Million Year Old Dinosaur Eggs in Johannesburg

The first dinosaur embryos found in South Africa nearly 40 years ago are now being analyzed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France. The 200 million year old fossilized eggs were found in 1976 by world renown fossil collector James Kitching near the border of South Africa and Lesotho.

Exposing the World’s Oldest Dinosaur Eggs and Extra Excavations

It took nearly a quarter of a century for paleontology to take notice of these dinosaur eggs. A great advancement for the study was Diane Scott, a fossil preparation expert, who meticulously removed much of the rock surrounding the eggs. Scott’s work exposed the embryos for Dr. Mike Raath and an international team of paleontologists.

The team’s research led to an amazing discovery: not only were the eggs the ever first found in South Africa, the baby dinosaur eggs were also the oldest in the world.

Another surprising finding came when a second research team went back to Rooidraai where Kitching first discovered the eggs and excavated the site. Their studies revealed two embryonic dinosaur skeletons of Massospondylus, an herbivore that roamed in the Early Jurassic Period. The embryos revealed that unlike their adult counterparts with small heads, the embryos had large heads. In addition, they would walk on four legs rather than two, much like a baby crawling in comparison to an adult walking.

As if these discoveries weren’t enough, the team’s excavations unearthed ten additional egg clutches for a total of 34 eggs along a low cliff. The studies concluded that Massospondylus nested in the same spot in South Africa each year.

Hatching the Secrets of Dinosaur Eggs 40 years After Discovery

Although the findings were groundbreaking in the world of paleontology, research on the eggs was rather limited due to the tiny size of the fragile eggs. Even with Scott’s careful preparation, the embryonic bones had been situated in stone for nearly 200 million years, leaving researchers blinded to the anatomy that lay inside the rock.

Recent technological advances are now allowing paleontologists to finally begin examining the embryonic dinosaurs using a powerful CT scan. Modern imaging methods enable researchers to digitally remove the rock matrix. These methods also create 3D models of the tiny bones inside the rock matrix without causing physical damage.

Even with modern technology, the x-ray resolution required to study the embryos is extremely high, which means only a few facilities have the technology to perform the studies. Luckily, researchers submitted a proposal and were approved to research the eggs at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility at the beginning of this month.

Further Research on the 200 million year old dinosaur eggs

The x-rays have already taken place in Grenoble and the eggs are already back in South Africa, but the 1000GB of data retrieved from the testing will take some time to process. The researchers will process this data in Johannesburg at the Virtual Palaeontology Lab in the University of Witwatersrand.

Though it may take a while longer, the preliminary findings have led researchers to believe that these 200 million year old dinosaur eggs will hatch a few more secrets in the upcoming years.

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