Biologist Discovers New Dinosaur in China

Newswise — WASHINGTON – Fossil remains found by a George Washington University biologist in northwestern China have been identified as a new species of small theropod, or meat-eating, dinosaur.

The discovery was made by James Clark, the Ronald B. Weintraub Professor of Biology, in the Department of Biological Sciences of GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Clark, along with his then doctoral student Jonah Choiniere and a team of international researchers, found the dinosaur specimen in a remote region of Xinjiang in China in 2006.

Therapod Skull Fossil
Fossil of Aorun zhaoi skull found in 2006 in Xinjiang, China. CREDIT: Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, May-2013
New Therapod Fossil found in China
Fossil remains found by a George Washington University biologist in northwestern China have been identified as a new species of small theropod, or meat-eating, dinosaur. CREDIT: Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, May-2013

In a research paper published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, Drs. Clark and Choiniere explain recovering the skull, mandible and partial skeleton of the dinosaur. The new theropod was an estimated 1 meter or just over 3 feet long and probably weighed about 3 pounds.

“All that was exposed on the surface was a bit of the leg,” said Dr. Clark. “We were pleasantly surprised to find a skull buried in the rock too.”

The dinosaur is named Aorun zhaoi, after the Dragon King in the Chinese epic tale Journey to the West. It wasn’t necessarily a small dinosaur species, though, because Aorun was still a youngster when it became a fossil.

“We were able to look at microscopic details of Aorun’s bones and they showed that the animal was less than a year old when it died on the banks of a stream,” said Dr. Choiniere.

Dr. Choiniere, now a senior researcher at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, was a doctoral student in Biological Studies at GW when the discovery was made. He was also a Kalbfleisch Fellow and Gerstner Scholar at the American Museum of Natural History.

Aorun lived more than 161 million years ago, in the earliest part of the Late Jurassic Period. Its small, numerous teeth suggest that it would have eaten prey like lizards and small relatives of today’s mammals and crocodilians.

This is the fifth new theropod discovered at the Wucaiwan locality by the team, co-led by Dr. Clark and Dr. Xu Xing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation Division of Earth Sciences and the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation.

The Journal of Systematic Palaeontology is published on behalf of the National History Museum in London. The journal publishes papers which use systematics in ways that significantly advance the understanding of palaeogeography, palaeobiology, functional morphology, palaeoecology, biostratigraphy or phylogenetic relationships, as well as papers describing new or poorly understood fossil faunas and floras. The new paper can be accessed for a short time here:

The Columbian College
Established in 1821 in the heart of the nation’s capital, The George Washington University Columbian College of Arts and Sciences is the largest of GW’s academic units. It encompasses the School of Media and Public Affairs, the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration and more than 40 departments and programs for undergraduate, graduate and professional studies. The Columbian College provides the foundation for GW’s commitment to the liberal arts and a broad education for all students. An internationally recognized faculty and active partnerships with prestigious research institutions place Columbian College at the forefront in advancing policy, enhancing culture and transforming lives through research and discovery.

George Washington University
In the heart of the nation's capital with additional programs in Virginia, the George Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in 1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in the District of Columbia. The university offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study, as well as degree programs in medicine, public health, law, engineering, education, business and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of undergraduate, graduate and professional students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 130 countries.

Add new comment