Researchers discover first dinosaur species that lived on Greenland 214 million years ago

Living reconstruction of Issi Saaneq. Credit: Victor Beccari
Two-legged dinosaur Issi saaneq lived around 214 million years ago in Greenland. It was a medium-sized and long-necked herbivore, which was also the precursor of the sauropods. They were the largest land animals to ever live. The discovery was made by an international team that included researchers from Germany, Denmark, and Portugal. The new dinosaur's name, "cold bone," is a tribute to Greenland Inuit language. In the journal Diversity, the team reports on its discovery.

Two well-preserved skulls were the first evidence of the dinosaur's existence. They were discovered in 1994 by Harvard University paleontologists. The original thought was that one of the specimens belonged to a Plateosaurus. This well-known long-necked dinosaur lived in Germany, France, and Switzerland during the Triassic Period. Only a handful of East Greenland finds have been documented and prepared. "It's exciting to find a close relative to the well-known Plateosaurus," Dr. Oliver Wings, MLU, says.

A micro-CT scan was performed on the bones by the team. This enabled them to create digital models of internal structures and bones that are still covered in sediment. The anatomy of these skulls is different in many ways, including the shapes and proportions of their bones. Victor Beccari, the lead author of these specimens, said that they are a new species. He performed the analyses at NOVA University in Lisbon.

Credit: Victor Beccari

The Late Triassic Period saw the emergence of the plant-eating dinosaur Issi saaneq. It lived approximately 214 million years ago. The Atlantic Ocean formed and the supercontinent Pangaea was broken apart at this point. Professor Lars Clemmensen, University of Copenhagen, explains that the Earth was experiencing climate change at the time. This allowed the first plant-eating dinosaurs from Europe to reach Europe.

Two skulls from the new species were taken from a juvenile and almost-adult animal. The differences in bone structure and size are not significant. They only reflect proportions. The Greenlandic dinosaur is different from any other sauropodomorphs that have been discovered. However, it shares similarities with Brazilian dinosaurs like the Macrocollum or Unaysaurus. These dinosaurs are close to 15 million years old. They form the plateosaurid group: Relatively graceful bipeds who reached lengths of between 3 and 10 meters.

Issi saaneq skulls. Credit: Victor Beccari

These new findings provide the first evidence for a Greenlandic species of dinosaur. This not only expands the range of dinosaurs found in the Late Triassic (235 to 201 million years ago), but also helps us better understand the timeline and evolutionary paths of this iconic group of sauropods, which inhabited Earth for almost 150 million years.

After the scientific work has been completed, the fossils are transferred to the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

Continue reading: A new discovery of a dinosaur in Switzerland fills in a gap in the evolutionary history of sauropods

More information: Victor Beccari et al, Issi saaneq gen. et sp. nov.--A new Sauropodomorph Dinosaur, a Sauropodomorph Dinosaur, from the Late Triassic, Norian, Jameson Land, Central East Greenland. Diversity (2021). Victor Beccari et al, Issi saaneq gen. et sp. nov.--A new Sauropodomorph Dinosaur (Sauropodomorph Dinosaur) from the Late Triassic, (Norian), Jameson Land, Central East Greenland. DOI: 10.3390/d13110561

Martin Luther University Halle Wittenberg