In May 2010, it was announced that three new species of dinosaurs had been discovered. Their fossilized remains were found in the Mexican state of Coahuila, by a team working under the auspices of the University of Utah. The most exciting of these, Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna, was named after the state. It has the longest horns of any dinosaur ever uncovered.
Artists impression courtesy of the University of Utah
Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna (pron. Koh-WHE-lah-SARA-tops mag-NAH-KWER-na) is a relative of its more famous cousin, Triceratops. The name breaks down as Coahuila (Mexican state, where it was found); ceratops (Greek word meaning 'horned face'); magna (Latin for big/great); and cuerna (Spanish word for horn). So it's the great horned, horn-face from Coahuila. Once you realise that the horns stretched out 4ft (1.2 meters), you can understand the emphasis on said appendages.
This dinosaur lived around 72 million years ago. It was about the size of a modern-day rhinoceros, but it weighed 4-5 tonnes. Though it could certainly hold its own in a fight, Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna was a vegetarian. His fossilized remains were found near to the village of Porvenir de Jalpa, near Saltillo, by a team which included Mexican, American and Canadian paleontologists. The specimens have been deposited in a permanent exhibition, at the Museo del Desierto (Museum of the Desert), in Saltillo. The skull of the Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna will be revealed to the public, at the same museum, later in the year.
For those wishing to gain the fine detail, then a book was published last month which covers these findings. 'New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs' by Michael Ryan (Indiana University Press) announced the unearthing of Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna.
Paleontology is so under-developed in Mexico that Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna is only the fourth Mexican dinosaur ever named. It wasn't discovered alone. There were also the remains of a duck-billed creature, which has yet to be properly classified. There were also members of the tyrannosaurus family, though not the infamous rex, as well as smaller relatives of the velociraptor. The team also identified a dinosaur trackway, with many species of both carnivores and herbivores criss-crossing it, then leaving their remains for modern hunters to find.
In the Late Cretaceous Period (97 million to 65 million years ago), the world looked very different. Central America had yet to form. This made Mexico the southernmost tip of the Northern Americas. In addition to this, high water levels had made a sea of the central, low-lying areas of the USA, Mexico and Canada. The whole continent was split, with eastern and western landmasses huddling around this warm, shallow sea. The western side was fairly narrow. Dinosaurs lived and died on a peninsula sandwiched between the sea and the rising mountains to the west. This peninsula has been named Laramidia; and it is the prospect of learning about this area that has scientists so excited.
"We know very little about the dinosaurs of Mexico, and this find increases immeasurably our knowledge of the dinosaurs living in Mexico during the Late Cretaceous," said Mark Loewen, a paleontologist with the Utah Museum of Natural History. "Rather than focusing only on individual varieties of dinosaurs, we are attempting to reveal what life was like in Mexico 72 million years ago, and understand how the unique ecosystem of Mexico relates to ecosystems to the north at the time."
His colleague, Scott Sampson, added, "As the southernmost dinosaurs on Laramidia, we are confident that Mexican dinosaurs will be a critical element in unraveling the ancient mystery of this island continent."
If you are interested in dinosaurs, then Mexico is certainly the place to be watching in coming years. For those wishing to make their name in paleontology, then heading to our beautiful country with a trowel and some brushes could well be the way forward. Good luck!