Issi saaneq: New Herbivorous Dinosaur Species Identified in Greenland

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Life reconstruction of Issi saaneq. Image credit: Victor Beccari.

A new genus and species of plateosaurid sauropodomorph dinosaur has been identified from two fossilized skulls found in Jameson Land, a peninsula in eastern Greenland.

Issi saaneq lived in what is now Greenland about approximately 214 million years ago (Late Triassic period).

This medium-sized, long-necked dinosaur was a predecessor of the sauropods, the biggest land animals ever to have thundered across our planet.

“It was at this time that the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart and the Atlantic Ocean began forming,” said University of Copenhagen’s Professor Lars Clemmensen and his colleagues.

“At the time, the Earth was experiencing climate changes that enabled the first plant-eating dinosaurs to reach Europe and beyond.”

The skulls of two Issi saaneq individuals — a middle-stage juvenile and a late-stage juvenile or subadult — were uncovered in 1994 from the Late Triassic outcrops of the Malmros Klint Formation in Jameson Land, Greenland.

“The anatomy of the two skulls is unique in many respects, for example in the shape and proportions of the bones. These specimens certainly belong to a new species,” said Dr. Victor Beccari, a paleontologist at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, the Museu da Lourinhã and the SNSB – Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie.

The 214-million-year-old skulls of Issi saaneq in left lateral view. Image credit: Beccari et al., doi: 10.3390/d13110561.

One of the specimens was originally assigned to Plateosaurus trossingensis, a long-necked dinosaur that lived in Germany, France and Switzerland during the Triassic period.

“It is exciting to discover a close relative of the well-known Plateosaurus, hundreds of which have already been found in Germany,” said Dr. Oliver Wings, a paleontologist at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg.

Issi saaneq differs from all other sauropodomorphs discovered so far. However, it has similarities with Brazilian dinosaurs such as Macrocollum itaquii and Unaysaurus tolentinoi, which lived almost 15 million years later.

Together with Plateosaurus trossingensis, these dinosaurs belong to Plateosauridae, a family of sauropodomorphs from the Late Triassic of Europe, Greenland, Africa and Asia.

“Our findings are the first evidence of a distinct Greenlandic dinosaur species, which not only adds to the diverse range of dinosaurs from the Late Triassic, but also allows us to better understand the evolutionary pathways and timeline of the iconic group of sauropods that inhabited the Earth for nearly 150 million years,” the paleontologists said.

The discovery of Issi saaneq is described in a paper in the journal Diversity.


V. Beccari et al. 2021. Issi saaneq gen. et sp. nov. – A New Sauropodomorph Dinosaur from the Late Triassic (Norian) of Jameson Land, Central East Greenland. Diversity 13 (11): 561; doi: 10.3390/d13110561