SCIENCE

New Horned Dinosaur Species Unearthed In Utah

The two-ton plant-eater Machairoceratops cronusi had four horns and lived 77 million years ago.

19/05/2016 9:53 AM AEST | Updated 19/05/2016 2:11 PM AEST
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Mark Witton

A new species of horned dinosaur has been unearthed by scientists in southern Utah.

Remains of the animal, named Machairoceratops cronusi, suggest it was about 26 feet long, weighed two tons and ate plants. The first traces were found a decade ago in an area rich with the remains of centrosaurines -- large-bodied, plant-eating dinosaurs that roamed North America and Asia 77 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous period.

The illustration above is an artist's reconstruction of Machairoceratops. It shows the dinosaur's neck shield with ominous-looking appendages anchored to the animal's skull.

According to a scientific paper about the discovery in the PLOS ONE journal, "the specimen consists of two curved and elongate orbital horncores, ... [and] a nearly complete, slightly deformed braincase." 

The image below shows pieces of the Machairoceratops that have been recovered. 

Lund et al, 2016 PLOS ONE

The new species was discovered by an international team of scientists conducting paleontological and geological surveys in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument of southern Utah. 

Patrick O’Connor, Ohio University

It can take years for this kind of discovery to find its way to the public. 

"The first parts of the specimen were discovered on the surface in 2006, but the full excavation was completed over two additional field seasons (in 2007 and 2009). Then, the process of doing the careful laboratory preparation took another couple of years," study co-author Patrick O'Connor, a professor of anatomical sciences at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, told HuffPost in an email. 

Professional excavators and volunteers from Ohio University and the Natural History Museum of Utah helped the team unearth the horncores and various other skull pieces. The photo below shows one of those protrusions.

Patrick O’Connor, Ohio University

"An effort like this underscores both the necessity and excitement of basic, exploratory science in order to better understand the history of the world around us," O'Connor said in a statement.

"Even in a place like western North America, where intense work has been conducted over the past 150 years, we are still finding species new to science," O'Connor added.

The photo below shows paleontologist Tobin Hieronymus excavating the Utah quarry where remains were found. 

Patrick O’Connor, Ohio University

As it turns out, Machairoceratops is one of two new horned dinosaurs announced on Wednesday. A second one, found in Montana 10 years ago by an amateur fossil collector, was finally identified. Its name is Spiclypeus shipporum, or spiked shield. 

Eric Lund, a member of the Utah team that discovered Machairoceratops, remarked on the unrelated announcement horning in on his group's news.

"It's true," Lund told HuffPost in an email. "Today is the day of new horned dinosaurs. Still very exciting for the world of paleontology."

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