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|Gorgonopsid Found in South Africa
December 8, 1998
An almost complete fossilized Gorgonopsid skeleton was found in the Karroo desert of South Africa. Gorgonopsids are not dinosaurs, but even earlier predators. This 250 million year old meat-eater was discovered by palaeontologists Roger Smith (from the South African Museum at Cape Town, South Africa) with help from Peter Ward (from the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA).
Smith and Ward couldn't remove the fossil this season because ed the necessary equipment, so they reburied it. They will excavate it during a later expedition.
This fossil, when excavated and examined thoroughly will settle many unanswered questions about gorgonopsids. Primary among these are questions about its stance and metabolism. As to its stance, most reptiles and pelycosaurs have a sprawling gait while more advanced forms (those closer to the mammals) have a more upright gait . Examining this fossil will tell paleontologists how Gorgonopsids held itself and moved, and consequently, shed light on its metabolism.
Gorgonopsids were synapsids, mammal-like reptiles. Not that much is known about them. They grew as long as 10 feet (30 m) long. They had large, powerful, square-shaped jaws with huge, sabre-like canine and interlaced, socket-like teeth up to 4 inches (10 cm) long. Despite a slightly mammalian appearance, their eyes were set at the sides of the head like those of lizards. Their bodies were probably covered in scales.
Gorgonopsid means "Gorgon arch." Gorgon was a beast in Greek mythology whose gaze could turn you to stone, and arch refers to synapsid skull holes.
WHEN THE GORGONS LIVED
The gorgons lived during the late Palaeozoic Era, roughly 250 million years ago, and were probably the dominant predator. This is many millions of years before the dinosaurs evolved (dinosaurs appeared about 228 million years ago during the beginning of the Mesozoic Era).
Gorgonopsids in the Dinosaur and Paleontology Dictionary
A page on Dimetrodon, another pelycosaur.
Other fossils found in Africa.
More about paleontologists and fossil hunters.
Chart of geological time.
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