Minotaurasaurus ramachandrani: The Mysterious Skull.
Size: 16.4 feet (5 meters) long.
Time Period: Unknown, presumably the Late Crecaceous Period.
Locale: Unknown, probably recovered from the Gobi Desert.
Name: The generic name means “Minotaur lizard,” in honor of the animal’s distinctive skull. The specific name honors Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, who purchased the fossil from a trader and made the animal recognizable in the scientific community.
In modern days, more and more dinosaur specimens are being unearthed from places all over the world. The more fossils are being unearthed, the more likely it is that some will be distributed without the proper form of documentation. A case of this improper documentation is found in Minotaurasaurus, a distinctive and really well-preserved fossil whose origins may forever remain a mystery.
Where this skull comes from is still very often debated, and there have been conflicts about who should keep it. As I mentioned above, Vilyanur Ramachandran purchased the holotype specimen in Tuscon, Arizona from a fossil trader named Hollis Butts for ten thousand dollars. Though we know how the fossil was made known, we don’t know exactly where it originated. Some people claim that the fossil was removed from the Gobi Desert without the permission of any government and sold sans documentation, an action which, as you may guess, is frowned upon. Ramachandran has no problem with giving the fossil to its proper nation (probably Mongolia or China) if he is shown evidence of the specimen being exported without a permit and without documentation. As of January 2013, the specimen is in a museum in California, as shown in the picture above.
The animal is known only from a skull, but one that is distinctive enough to merit its own genus, as well as a distinctive name. Though Tom Holtz says that this may be a species of Pinacosaurus and others say that it could be a species of Saichania, both being other species of ankylosaur, I think that it would be prudent to wait for proper understanding of the age of the fossil and where it was really found before such classification occurs. Anyway, Minotaurasaurus’s generic name was inspired by the Minotaur, the mythological monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull. Like its relatives, Minotaurasaurus possessed the kind of hornlets present in other ankylosaurids, but these were very elongated and extended further behind the skull than those of its relatives. Further information regarding this animal pertains to its braincase, which was primitive compared to those of its previously mentioned relatives. Apart from that, its characteristics appeared to be standard for an ankylosaurid of its presumed age of the Later Late Cretaceous. It’s very likely that the animal was found in the Gobi Desert of either China or Mongolia, but given the lack of documentation about the specimen, I conclude here that it may have originated in North America. We may never know.
Since its braincase was more primitive than some of its relatives’, it’s possible that the animal was found earlier in the Late Cretaceous than Ankylosaurus or even Euplocephalus. Though I doubt that the fossil is older than the Campanian Stage, I can’t exclude the possibility that it occurred even earlier than that.
So, here we have the tale of a really intriguing fossil whose origins are completely uncertain. The moral of this story is that we definitely need our documentation system, as we would be completely lost without it. It’s a really cool animal, but I wish we had more information about it.