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Scientific Classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Superorder: Dinosauria
Suborder: Sauropodomorpha
Family: Guaibasauridae
Sub-Family: Saturnaliinae
Genus: Saturnalia
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The Saturnalia was a basal sauropodomorph dinosaur that was in existence in the Carnian age of the Triassic period. It was extant about 237 to 225 million years ago. Its fossils were discovered in both South America and Africa.
The size of the Saturnalia was similar to that of a small dog. It was a quick creature; this compensated for its petite size. It was most likely herbivorous. It could support itself on its hind legs and thus was bipedal.
The classification of the Saturnalia has been a polarizing issue. Its fossils match characteristics of both sauropods and theropods. While many scientists believe it belonged to order Theropoda, the most commonly accepted belief about its lineage is that it was an early sauropodomorph.

The word 'Saturnalia' is derived from the traditional Roman festival of the same name. It is observed to celebrate the god 'Saturn'. The fossils ascribed to the Saturnalia were supposedly discovered during the aforementioned festival and hence they were named so.
The fossils were christened by the scientist Max Langer and his colleagues Benton, Abdala and Richter in 1999.
The specific name Saturnalia tupiniquim translates to 'indigenous' in the Portuguese language.

Discovery of fossils
The remains of the Saturnalia were excavated from more than one continent.

  • The holotype was discovered in Sanga da Alemoa in Brazil. This comprised of almost an entire skeleton except the skull bones. They were discovered in the Paleorrota Park in 1998.
  • A little later in the same year, parts of the lower jaw, a few teeth and some other bones of the axial skeleton were discovered in the same region, which were attributed to the Saturnalia.

All of these remains were unearthed in the Santa Maria Formation of Brazil.

  • Another specimen of a partial femur was also discovered in Zimbabwe which was ascribed to the Saturnalia. This was located in the Pebbly Arkose formation.

The continents of Africa and South America formed the super continent of Gondwana in the Triassic period. Thus it is understandable that the fossils of the same dinosaur species be found on two different continents.

The taxonomic classification of the Saturnalia has been a back and forth affair. This was due to the fact that the characteristics of the Saturnalia matched both sauropods and theropods.

  • The primary investigations by Max C. Langer and his associates in 1999 determined the Saturnalia belonged to sub order Sauropodomorpha.
  • However in 2003, Langer reconsidered his initial analysis. He deduced that the skull and limb features of the Saturnalia resembled theropods more than sauropods. Hence, he changed its taxonomic position to sub order Theropoda.
  • It was postulated by Jose Bonaparte in 2007 that the Saturnalia was similar to the dinosaur Guaibasaurus. The remains of the Guaibasaurus were also excavated in Brazil. He shifted the Saturnalia to the family Guaibasauridae and also assigned a new sub family for the remains, Saturnaliinae.

He believed that these organisms were more like theropods than sauropods.

  • However, more recent studies have found both these dinosaurs to be basal sauropods.

The most commonly accepted classification for the Saturnalia is that was a primitive sauropodomorph. But most scientists also concede that it could have been related to the common ancestor of the sauropods and theropods. Some scientists refrain from classifying it beyond being a basal saurischian.

The Santa Maria Formation
The Santa Maria Formation is a geological formation located in Rio Grande du Sol in Brazil. It is composed of sedimentary rocks.
The fossils discovered in the Santa Maria Formation belong to the mid and late Triassic period.
Many Triassic vertebrates were discovered in the formation. These include the Polesinesuchus, the Santacruzodon, the Belesodon, the Candelariodon, etc. The dinosaurs discovered there are the Saturnalia, the Staurikosaurus, the Teyuwasu and the Pampadromaeus.

The Pebbly Arkose Formation
The Pebbly Arkose Formation is a natural land structure located in southern Africa. It is chiefly composed of sandstone, although limestone is seen infrequently. It encompasses Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.
The Pebbly Arkose Formation is adjacent to the Elliot Formation of South Africa, which has contained many dinosaur remains.
Along with the Saturnalia, the Pebbly Arkose Formation also contained the remains of the Hyperodapedon and other Triassic plants.

Max Langer
Max Cardoso Langer is a contemporary Brazilian biologist and paleontologist. He has completed his under graduation from the University of Estadual Paulista and his graduation from the University of Federal do Rio Grande do Sul and his doctorate from the University of Bristol.
His areas of interest include Mesozoic vertebrates such as dinosaurs, Rhynchosaurs and turtles.
He currently works with the University of Sao Paulo.

Phenotypic characteristics
The Saturnalia was a tiny dinosaur.

  • It weighed about 8 to 12 kilos. This size was much smaller than the other dinosaurs of the Triassic period.
  • Its length of the Saturnalia was about 4.5 to 5.5 feet from head to tail.
  • It was bipedal; it could walk on its hind legs. This feature is very typical of the Triassic theropods and was one the reason for the Saturnalia being classified initially as a theropod.
  • Its head was a very small size. Its tail was long and whip-like.
  • The Saturnalia was a swift runner, with its legs being adapted for sprinting. This characteristic was used to escape the carnivorous dinosaurs of the Triassic period.

Habits and habitat
As the Saturnalia is classified as a primitive sauropodomorph, it is presumed to be herbivorous in its feeding habits. Its habitat consisted of frequent water bodies and woodlands and it is presumed that food was available aplenty for the Saturnalia. But it had to extremely wary of it predators. It was very small in size and hence an easy prey for the carnivores.

Related and coexisting species
The Saturnalia is believed to be intimately related to the Guaibasaurus. It could possibly have been related to basal theropod dinosaurs such as the Eoraptor and the Demonasaurus.
The Staurikosaurus may have coexisted with the Saturnalia and also hunted it for food.

Concluding notes
The heritage of the Saturnalia remains debatable even today. Many paleontologists are reluctant to precisely coin the classification of the Saturnalia as it has both sauropod an theropod characters.
The only fact that can be conclusively determined about the Saturnalia is that it was basal saurischian. Nevertheless, its discovery has been important in understanding the diversity of the Triassic dinosaurs.