An ancient dinosaur that lived in Argentina around 140 million years ago is believed to be the oldest titanosaur that has ever been discovered. The remains of the long-necked species, which has been named Ninjatitan zapati, were discovered back in 2014 in the Bajada Colorada Formation in Neuquén province, Patagonia region, Argentina.
What’s so incredible about this discovery is that the remains were 20 million years older than the next oldest titanosaur bones. Older long-necked dinosaurs have previously been unearthed, but they belonged to a group called titanosauriforms (in which titanosaurs are a part of); however, the Ninjatitan zapati remains were from the oldest known of its lineage.
Pablo Ariel Gallina, who is a paleontologist at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina and an author of the study, reiterated this by telling Reuters, “It is the oldest record known, not only from Argentina but worldwide,” adding, “Titanosaurs are recorded on various sides of the world, but the oldest-known records were more modern than this find.”
This also suggests that they first appeared and lived on the supercontinent Gondwana (South America, Antarctica, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Indian subcontinent, and Saudi Arabia) during the early part of the Cretaceous Period before traveling to other areas.
While titanosaurs could grow as long as 40 meters (131 feet), the Ninjatitan zapati species was half that size at 20 meters in length (66 feet). Titanosaurs were herbivores with stocky bodies and four wide pillar-like legs. They had an extremely long neck and tail, but a small head.
In an email to Live Science, Gallina wrote in part, “The Bajada Colorada dinosaur fauna represents one of the most diverse and unique associations not previously documented from the lowermost Cretaceous deposits worldwide, a moment in dinosaur evolution little explored.” (Pictures of the bones and the site where they were found can be seen here.)
Neuquén province is known for its incredible dinosaur discoveries. One recent example was the remains of a dinosaur (still unnamed) that were found at the Candeleros Formation that may have belonged to the largest land creature to have ever walked the planet. Research is still being conducted on the remains, but initial analysis suggested that it could have been a member of the Patagonian sauropod family with its closest relative possibly being a “super-sized” titanosaur named Andesaurus.
The study on the Ninjatitan zapati remains was published in the journal Ameghiniana.