KnowledgeCapsule: A dinosaur that lived before Triceratops

A dinosaur that lived before Triceratops

Scientists in Alberta have identified a new type of horned dinosaur that looked like Triceratops but lived 15 million years earlier.

Called Xenoceratops foremostensis, it was a two-tonne vegetarian that flourished 80 million years ago, making it the oldest known large-bodied horned dinosaur to be found in Canada.

"This guy was the size of a large bull, with two big brow horns over its eyes and a big shield off the back of its skull," said Michael Ryan, head of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and an author of a study describing the species in the current issue of The Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences.

Fossils of Xenoceratops were first collected in 1958, but were left unidentified at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. Ryan and a co-author, David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto, are working on a larger effort, the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, that has identified about 10 new dinosaurs, including Xenoceratops.

Most of the known dinosaurs from Alberta were found farther north, in Dinosaur Provincial Park and Drumheller. The dinosaurs to the south, like Xenoceratops, lived at least 15 million years earlier than those in the north, Ryan said.

"We're trying to find enough new dinosaurs further south to help us understand what led up to the extinction event," he added.

Understanding the mayan collapse

The ancient Maya civilisation may have risen—and then fallen—in response to climate change, scientists report after creating precise climate records going back 2,000 years.

The researchers, whose findings appear in the current issue of the journal Science, reconstructed rainfall patterns using cross-sections of stalagmites from a cave near the ancient city of Uxbenka, in what is now southern Belize. First, they dated the samples with the technique called uranium-thorium dating; then, to generate a climate record, they measured oxygen isotopes, which are sensitive to rainfall.

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