Courtesy of Robert Nicholls
This newly identified T. rex relative, named Zhuchengtyrannus magnus, probably stood about 13 feet tall and weighed close to 13,200 pounds when it lived in what is now China.
updated 3/31/2011 7:04:51 PM ET 2011-03-31T23:04:51

A long-lost Chinese cousin ofT. rex has been discovered, one comparable in size to the legendary predator and one of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs ever found.

The remains of this huge carnivore were discovered in a fossil quarry, which together with nearby sites in eastern China hold one of the largest concentrations of dinosaur bones in the world.

"We named the new species Zhuchengtyrannus magnus, which means the 'Great Tyrant from Zhucheng,' because the bones were found in the city of Zhucheng, in eastern China's Shandong province," said researcher David Hone, a paleontologist at the University College Dublin in Ireland.

Zhuchengtyrannus was a tyrannosaurine, a member of a group of huge theropods, or "beast-footed" dinosaurs, that included T. rex and its closest relatives. They were known for their small arms, two-fingered hands and large, powerful jaws that could have delivered powerful, bone-crushing bites.

"It's the first China-only tyrannosaurine, and it's one of the biggest ever — there are only five carnivorous theropods bigger by my count," Hone told LiveScience.

The tyrannosaurines were likely both predators and scavengers, and lived in North America and eastern Asia during the late Cretaceous period, which lasted from about 99 million to 65 million years ago.

"Zhuchengtyrannus can be distinguished from other tyrannosaurines by a combination of unique features in the skull not seen in any other theropod," Hone said.

The researchers estimated that Zhuchengtyrannus measured about 36 feet long, stood about 13 feet tall and weighed close to 13,200 pounds, the weight of a school bus.

"It's a smidge under T. rex-sized," Hone said. "With only some skull and jaw bones to work with, it is difficult to precisely gauge the overall size of this animal. But the bones we have are just a few centimeters smaller than the equivalent ones in the largest T. rex specimen. So there is no doubt that Zhuchengtyrannus was a huge tyrannosaurine."

Most of the other specimens recovered from the quarry where Zhuchengtyrannus was found belong to a gigantic species of duck-billed dinosaur known as Shantungosaurus giganteus, which might have been its prey, as well as some unidentified ankylosaurs. The area was likely once a large floodplain where many dinosaur bodies were washed together during floods and then fossilized, Hone explained.

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The bones of Zhuchengtyrannus were found in 2009. "Ironically, they were found by a construction crew digging the foundations for a museum to put the other fossils in," Hone said.

One other, larger tyrannosaurine, known as Tarbosaurus, had been identified in Asia before.

The scientists detailed their findings online Wednesday in the journal Cretaceous Research.

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Explainer: Seven real-life archaeological mysteries

  • Alexandre Meneghini  /  AP file

    Hollywood's favorite archaeologist has chased around Egypt, India, the Middle East ... and the Amazon as well. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is loosely inspired by a supposed Mesoamerican legend that 13 widely dispersed crystal skulls will yield unprecedented powers when united.

    In real life, several purported crystal skulls are housed in museums around the world, though archaeologists doubt their ancient provenance and mystical powers. Instead, these skulls are primarily seen as fakes sold by 19th-century antiquities dealers to feed a market hungry for pre-Hispanic relics. Nevertheless, the archaeological mystery of the crystal skulls lives on. Skull hunters still search for them, and the Maya believe they hold special powers. In this picture, a priest hoists a skull in a ceremony at the Palenque ruins in Mexico.

    Click the "Next" arrow above to learn about six more archaeological mysteries.

    — John Roach, contributor

  • Where is the grave of Genghis Khan?

    Japan-Mongol Joint Research Team via AP

    Where is Genghis Khan buried? Nobody knows. The bloody Mongol warrior became famous as the ruler of an empire that eventually stretched from China to Hungary, but he asked to be buried in an unmarked grave. According to legend, anyone who witnessed the burial party en route to the funeral in 1227 was killed, and then the soldiers and servants who attended the funeral were massacred. Thus, the grave site has been one of archaeology's enduring mysteries. But scientists may be closing in on the location at last. In 2004, they unearthed the site of Genghis Khan's 13th-century palace, which is pictured here. Ancient texts suggest the grave itself could be nearby.

  • What happened on Easter Island?

    Carlos Barria  /  Reuters file

    Hundreds of monolithic statues called Moai, including the ones in this picture, ring remote Easter Island in the South Pacific. They face inland from the shore, presumably keeping watch over ancestral lands. Scientists unraveling the mystery of how the Polynesian settlers moved the statues are also piecing together the tale of the settlers' demise. According to a leading theory, giant palms were hacked down to roll the statues into place beginning in about 1200. As the population swelled, more chiefs requested statues, and more trees were felled. Eventually the island was denuded. Easter Island's environment — and society — collapsed. Other researchers pin the blame on Europeans, disease and rats.

  • Was Stonehenge a place of healing?

    Scott Barbour  /  Getty Images file

    Every year at the summer solstice, thousands of people witness the season's first sunrise at Stonehenge, about 90 miles west of London in the English countryside. Was the monument erected beginning around 3000 B.C. for the secular purpose of marking time? Perhaps, some scholars say. Another prominent theory suggests it was a place of worship. The most recent idea holds that the monument was erected as center of healing. Archaeologists dug at the site for the first time in nearly half a century to get a precise date for Stonehenge's bluestones, which were thought to have healing powers. A close match with the time frame during which archaeologists believe the stones were taken from the Perseli Mountains, 153 miles away, could help confirm the theory.

  • Why were the Nazca Lines etched?

    David Jackson / NBC News file

    Hundreds of lines and figures etched into the coastal desert of southern Peru have baffled archaeologists for decades. The Nazca people made the playing-field sized etchings between 200 B.C. and A.D. 700 by removing rust-colored pebbles to reveal the lighter soils beneath. Some are simple shapes reminiscent of geometry class. Others are recognizable animals, such as the hummingbird in this image. But what do they mean? Theories proposed over the years have ranged from religious and astronomical purposes to guideposts of sorts for finding water.

  • What is China's terracotta army guarding?

    Image: Mars Polar Lander

    In 1974, archaeologists found an army of thousands of terracotta statues standing guard outside the tomb of Qin Shi Huang Di, the ruler who unified China in 221 B.C. The find ranks as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. Each of the soldiers has a unique facial expression, and the troops are aligned according to rank in trenchlike corridors, accompanied by horses and chariots.

    As impressive as the army may be, scientists suspect that even greater treasure lies within Qin's unexcavated tomb. An account by an ancient court historian suggests that the tomb is full of miniature palaces, rivers of mercury and precious stones to represent the moon and stars. Remote sensing and nearby excavations have lent some credence to the writings.

  • How were the Egyptian pyramids built?

    Muhammed Muheisen  /  AP file

    The Great Pyramid of Giza near Cairo, one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, retains its world-famous status in a 21st-century list of seven wonders. Its mystique partly rests in just how the 479-foot-tall burial structure was built. Most Egyptologists believe large stones were moved from a quarry and lifted into place, but how? Teams of workers could have dragged the 2.5-ton stones with brute force, or perhaps they rolled them on logs. However they did it, recent research suggests the workers were skilled, not untrained slaves.


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