The story of Kenya as the cradle of civilisation is told so often in so many places. Indeed the idea that Kenya holds the secret to the origins of man from an evolutionary perspective is no longer contested. But as famous as the country has been with stories of man’s ancestry, it also once was the abode of the feared dinosaur.
When a group of scientists on a dinosaur expedition in Kenya from the University of Utah and the National Museum of Kenya in 2004 unearthed over 200 bone pieces of these prehistoric monsters in Lokitaung Gorge near Lake Turkana, a place also known for the discovery of ancient human remains, Kenya joined the ranks of North America and other famous dinosaur fossil discovery sites as a former home of the ‘terrible lizard’, as their name means in Greek.
The bones discovered included some from the large carnivorous Spinosaurus, a theropod thought to be related to the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex, the giant plant-eating sauropods or brontosaurus and a smaller bodied, two-legged herbivore similar to a duck-billed dinosaur.
The bones dating to the Mesozoic era, more than 200-million-years ago, became the first concrete evidence that dinosaurs inhabited what is today Kenya, apparently, long before early humans who lived there tens of millions of years later.
Even though the scientists did not find complete skeletons, they still believed they had stumbled upon fossils of dinosaurs and giant crocodiles. Earlier examination of the bones suggested the fossils represented dinosaurs from the Cretaceous, the final period of the Mesozoic.
The Cretaceous which is defined as the period between 145.5 and 65.5 million years ago is believed by many scientists to be the last period of the Mesozoic Era, following the Jurassic and ending with the extinction of the dinosaurs (except birds).
By the beginning of the Cretaceous, the super-continent called Pangea was already drifting apart and by the mid-Cretaceous, it had split into several smaller continents. This created large-scale geographic isolation, causing a divergence in evolution of all land-based life for the two new land masses.
The team from Utah and Kenya also collected jaw fragments with teeth from at least two species of crocodiles – one of them which they believed to be a true giant.