Scientists have uncovered in Argentina's Patagonian region the incomplete skeletal remains of what they believe could be the oldest-known dinosaur group known as titanosaurs.
This group of dinosaurs, which belongs to a diverse group of dinosaurs called sauropods, includes some 40 different species that include some of the world's largest land animals to ever roam the Earth. They were four-legged herbivores with small heads that had long necks and tails.
One of the world's oldest-known dinosaur groups
The researchers made their announcement on Monday (in Spanish), explaining the fossils they found belonged to a dinosaur species called Ninjatitan zapatai — could we please take a moment to acknowledge just how incredible the name "Ninjatitan" is. This species was part of the titanosaur group.
The 140-million-year-old postcranial remains of the Ninjatitan zapatai were discovered in the Bajada Colorada Formation in Neuquén province in Argentina's Patagonia region.
The team explained that its discovery shows that titanosaurs as a collective first lived earlier than was previously believed to be the case.
"The main importance of Ninjatitan zapatai, beyond the fact that it is a new species of titanosaur, is that it is the earliest record worldwide for this group," Dr. Pablo Ariel Gallina, a paleontologist at the Fundación Azara in Maimonides University and CONICET, said in Sci-News.
"This discovery is also very important for the knowledge of the evolutionary history of sauropods, because the fossil records of the Early Cretaceous epoch, in around 140 million years ago, are really very scarce throughout the world," he continued.
Ninjatitans were large dinosaurs, spanning approximately 65 feet (20 meters), but they weren't the biggest titanosaurs out there. Some, like the massive Argentinosaurus, could go up to 115 feet (35 meters).
The team also highlighted the fact that its discovery in Patagonia strongly points towards the idea that titanosaurs originated in the southern hemisphere.
The researchers' findings were published in Ameghiniana.