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Friday, 15 May, 1998, 19:02 GMT 20:02 UK
'We hit the paleontological jackpot'
The skull of Majungatholus (science)
The face only a mother could love: the skull of Majungatholus (Science)
A dinosaur with a face that only a mother could love is how scientists are describing their latest fossil find, yet it could help us understand better how the Earth's land masses have drifted apart. Our science correspondent David Whitehouse reports:

It is a 65 to 75 million-year-old fossil of a dinosaur called Majungatholus atopus, a distant cousin of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex. Once it was the dominant predator on the island of Madagascar where it was dug up.

Several specimens have been recovered, including a nearly complete and very well preserved skull.

"This is the most terrific find I have been associated with in more than 25 years of field work," said David Krause of the State University of New York.

Scott Sampson of the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine has also seen the fossil skull and adds: "This extraordinary skull ranks among the best known for any dinosaur.

"We hit the paleontological jackpot."

The predator, 30ft long, was buried by a flood not long after its death and protected from decay and scavenging.

Campsite on Madagascar (science)
Campsite on Madagascar (Science)
Madagascar was once part of the southern supercontinent called Gondwana that split apart when the dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

Previous examples of Majungatholus atopus have been found in South America and India. Finding it in Madagascar is significant.

According to Scott Sampson, "Dinosaurs and other land animals may have been able to disperse across the vast distances between South America and India-Madagascar via an intervening Antarctica."

The finding is reported in the journal Science.

See also:

26 Mar 98 | Sci/Tech
New dinosaur discovered
08 May 98 | Sci/Tech
Space dust 'did for dinosaurs'
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