Africa: Land Before Time - a Rare Glimpse Into the Life Cycle of the 'Impala' of Dinosaurs

analysis

The gift of X-ray vision has allowed scientists a peek into the mechanics of deep evolution, which surprisingly hasn't changed in 200 million years.

X-ray vision, provided by the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in France, has enabled palaeontologists from the University of the Witwatersrand to study delicate dinosaur embryos hidden inside 200-million-year-old eggs.

The embryos were Massospondylus carinatus, a 5-metre long herbivore that once roamed what is now the Free State. The nest of eggs were discovered in 1976 in Golden Gate Highlands National Park and are believed to be among the world's oldest dinosaur embryos.

But these youngsters were not giants like their parents; their tiny skulls were just 2cm in length, and they had teeth thinner than needles.

The X-ray scans, however, were able to create 3D images of the embryos, with such resolution that the researchers could focus in on individual bone cells.

"No one has looked at dinosaurs like this before, and the reason for this is that you need a really high-powered CT...

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