Fossil Finds2 min read

By Steve Edwards

Lake Kariba, situated on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is the largest man-made lake in the world, by volume, measuring 280 kms long and 40 kms wide, when full. The building of the dam wall, on the 2574 km Zambezi River, created approximately 2000 kms of rugged, wave-beaten shoreline, beautiful sandy beaches, vast open grasslands and forests of submerged dead trees. The exposed shoreline, eroded by waves, has offered the discovery of a variety of fascinating fossils.

The area around Musango and Bumi is famous for a unique dinosaur known as Vulcanodon karibaensis which was accidentally discovered in 1969 by a Kariba resident Mr B. A. Gibson. Vulcanodon (meaning “volcano tooth”) is an extinct genus of a sauropod dinosaur from the Early Jurassic period of Southern Africa.
The only known species is V. karibaensis. It was regarded as the earliest known sauropod for decades and is still one of the most primitive sauropods that has ever been discovered. Measuring approximately 6.5 meters in length, Vulcanodon’s structure is known from a fragmentary skeleton including much of the pelvic girdle, hind limbs, forearms and tail but lacking the trunk and neck vertebrae as well as the skull.

A recent fossil-finding expedition, led by a team of scientists from the Natural History Museum in London, WITS University in South Africa and the National Museums and Monuments in Zimbabwe, may have made a new discovery of a new species of dinosaur!

The collaborative field projects in 2017 and 2018 resulted in the first systematic paleontological and stratigraphic review of the southern shores of Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe in over 40 years. They identified nine new fossil sites that harbour the potential to reveal new insights into the biodiversity of this area (known as Gondwana) during the Triassic–Jurassic interval (between 250 million years ago and 150 million years ago). Investigations into the geological layers identified typical early dinosaurian faunas consisting largely of sauropodomorphs; creatures that were adapted to browsing higher than any other contemporary herbivore, giving them access to high tree foliage. This feeding strategy is supported by many of their defining characteristics, such as a light, tiny skull on the end of a long neck with ten or more elongated cervical vertebrae and a counterbalancing long tail with one to three extra sacral vertebrae.

Their teeth were weak and shaped like leaves or spoons (lanceolate or spatulate). Instead of grinding teeth, they had stomach stones (gastroliths), similar to the gizzard stones of modern birds and crocodiles to help digest tough plant fibres. The front of the upper mouth bends down in what appears to be a beak.

Please purchase Issue 10 for more fantastic finds!