Fossil bones found by farmers digging a new pond in north-east Thailand have been identified as a new species of dinosaur – the ninth dinosaur species found in this part of Thailand and the sixth found nowhere else.
New-to-science Sirindhorna khoratensis was a plant-eating iguanodontid, about 6 metres long, which lived around 120 million years ago.
The new dinosaur takes it genus name from the daughter of Thailand’s King Bhumibol, Princess Sirindhorn, an enthusiastic patron of dinosaur research. Its species name comes from Khorat, the informal name for the city of Nakhon Ratchasima about 400 kilometres north-east of Bangkok.
The fossils were uncovered in 2005 on the outskirts of the city by farmers digging a small reservoir to water their crops of corn and tapioca.
They reported the find to scientists at Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University (NRRU), but the location meant that the dig teams could only collect the fossils when there were no crops in the ground, for a few months each year between 2006 and 2012.
Although the fossils are fragmented, most of the skull and jawbone are complete and Sirindhorna is now one of the best-known iguanodon species in Asia, say the researchers from Japan’s Fukui Prefectural University and NRRU.
Iguanodon-like dinosaurs lived in the early Cretaceous Period between 145 million and 100 million years ago, when most of Southeast Asia was covered by jungles, swamps and shallow seas. They may have traveled in herds for protection against predators, like wild elephants today.
Masateru Shibata, a paleontologist at Fukui Prefectural University and the lead author of the research, told Kyodo News that iguanodons are thought to have colonised Asia from North America and Europe and the new find helped establish their range. Iguanodons from the early Cretaceous Period had also been found in Japan and the latest find from Thailand was “valuable as it shows iguanodons lived in a wide area of Asia,” he said.
The research has been published in the online science journal PLOS-One, and a replica of the full skeleton of the new dinosaur goes on display at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in central Japan on 30th January.
Sirindhorna is the ninth new species of dinosaur identified from fossils found in Thailand, all in the north-east Isan region of farmland, mountains and forests that extends from Khorat to Thailand’s Mekong River border with Laos and Cambodia.
It is the second Thai dinosaur named after Princess Sirindhorn — Phuwiangosaurus sirindhornae, a 20-metre long suaropod, was named in her honour in 1994.
North-east Thailand has emerged as a rich source of dinosaur fossils and other archaeological discoveries since the 1970s, when the first fossilized bones were found by prospectors looking for uranium in the broken scarps of Phu Wiang district, 85 kilometres west of the city of Khon Kaen and now a national park.
In 1994, the lucky find of a dinosaur bone by a monk in Kalasin province led to the discovery of a “dinosaur’s graveyard” and five new species. The discovery site has been developed into a renowned dinosaur museum and paleontology institute. Footprints from tyrannosaurs and other species have been found at several sites.
Archaeologists have also discovered important remains of the human occupation of the Middle Mekong Basin, including elaborate pottery and metalwork from grave sites at Ban Chiang and Ban Non Wat in north-east Thailand — relics of Bronze-Age peoples who lived in the region between 3000 and 4000 years ago.
But they have warned that the region’s archaeological heritage is threatened by land development and looting that takes place before scientists can learn what’s there.
Dr Joyce White, an American archaeologist who worked on the Ban Chiang discoveries, said at a public lecture in Bangkok last year that the destruction of archaeological sites across the region would have a lasting impact on future prospects for tourism, education and the rural societies involved.
Dr White was an expert witness for the US Justice Department in a successful prosecution of a US museum that had purchased smuggled artifacts from Ban Chiang and other Thai archaeological sites. The artifacts were returned to Thailand in 2014.