Researchers said Monday that the fossils represent a species of dinosaur called Ninjatitan zapatai that lived 140 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. They identified Ninjatitan as a titanosaur, a group of long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs that walked on four pillar-like legs.
An incomplete dinosaur skeleton remains unearthed in the Patagonia wilderness in Argentina, south of Neuquen. The researchers said ninjatitan proved that tetanosaurs as a group first appeared longer than previously known.
“It is the oldest known record not only from Argentina but around the world,” lead author Pablo Galena and a researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research in Argentina told Reuters.
“Titanosaurs have been recorded in various parts of the world, but the earliest known records are more recent from this discovery.”
Ningatosaurus was about 65 feet (20 meters) long and was a large dinosaur, but much smaller than later titanosaurs such as Argentinosaurus, which reached about 115 feet (35 meters) in length. The researchers also said that the presence of such an early titanosaur in Patagonia supports the idea that titanosaurs originated in the southern hemisphere.
Titanosaurs are part of a larger group of dinosaurs called sauropods that include others with similar body designs such as the brontosaurus and diploidux that lived in North America during the Jurassic period, which preceded the Cretaceous period.
A number of the titanosaurs that inhabited Patagonia achieved colossal proportions such as Argentinosaurs, Patagots and Dreadnoughtus.
Jose Luis Carbadillo, another CONICET researcher, told a local university publication that the age of the Ninjatitan remains could lead people to assume that the bones belonged to a group of dinosaurs that preceded the tetanosaurs.
“In Patagonia, Titanosaur was only known less than 120 million years ago,” he said.