South Africa: New Dinosaur Species Found among Largest Johannesburg Fossil Collection

Paleontologists discovered a new dinosaur in the largest fossil collection in Johannesburg at the Evolutionary Studies Institute. The researchers named the 200 million-year-old dinosaur, who had been in hiding for nearly 80 years, Sefapanosaurus.

New Dinosaur Found in Johannesburg’s Largest Fossil Collection

When PhD student Emil Krupandan and Dr. Alejandro Otero went to the Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI) at Witwatersrand University, they knew they would be sifting through thousands of bones that were millions of years old. But neither the University of Cape Town student nor the paleontologist visiting from Argentina could have guessed they would make a remarkable discovery of a lifetime.

Krupandan and Otero were studying sauropodomorph dinosaurs in the largest fossil collection in Johannesburg. Krupandan was looking over bones from Aardonyx, a dinosaur from Lesotho, when he realized that some bones were clearly different from the others. It was almost as if they didn’t belong in the collection.


Upon closer inspection, Krupandan and Otero discovered the reason the bones looked like they didn’t belong is because they weren’t part of Aardonyx. Instead, they belonged to a completely unknown dinosaur.

The dinosaur had a distinctive feature, a crossed astragalus, or ankle bone, which had been the key to identifying its inconsistencies with the other bones. Further research revealed they had discovered a new dinosaur that was approximately 200 million-years-old. As a nod to this defining feature, the researchers dubbed the dinosaur Sefapanosaurus, from the Sesotho word for cross, sefapano.


How could a new dinosaur remain undetected for nearly 80 years?

Johannesburg is home to the largest fossil collection in South Africa. It’s located at the Evolutionary Studies Institute and is a research haven for South African paleontologists, students, and researchers from all over the world.

The particular collection Krupandan and Otero were studying was part of a specimen collected in the Free State in the Zastron area, around 30 km from the border of Lesotho. It was around the late 1930s that the specimen became a part of the collection.

So how did a 200 million-year-old dinosaur remain hidden for over 80 years in the most researched fossil collection in Johannesburg?

Senior researcher at the ESI Dr. Jonah Choiniere believes it goes to show how truly massive the collection is. In addition, it also shows just how much more research is needed to properly classify and catalog all of the fossils.

“We once believed there were only two species of dinosaur in the Karoo but we now have evidence that there were lots of species,” said Choiniere. “This is another piece of the puzzle.”

What the Sefapanosaurus can teach us about mass extinction

The new discovery comes at an interesting time as research has provided much evidence that we are now in the dawn of the sixth mass extinction. Through extensive study in dinosaur paleobiology, Choiniere and the other researchers believe there is much to learn from the fossils that may help us come to terms with and understand the next mass extinction.

Whether it’s the Sefapanosaurus or a new dinosaur that has yet to be discovered, as we face our futures in the upcoming mass extinction, we can glean much knowledge from the bones that have recently been unearthed from within one of our largest collections.


Moleskine has a notebook for your paleontological excursion-type note-jotting needs: