The biggest dinosaur fossil  ever discovered is on public display at Wits University.

The Massospondylus carinatus, a fossil also known as ‘Big Momma’, is on public display for the first time at the Origins Centre Museum at Wits University until the end of September 2021. 

‘Big Momma’ is the biggest fossil of its type – Sauropodomorph – to have ever been discovered and is over 200 million years old. “We actually do not know if it is a male or female… so she could be ‘Big Poppa’,” says Jonah Choiniere, a professor at the Wits University Evolutionary Studies Institute. 

The dinosaur fossil was discovered in the 1840s. The original fossil was shipped to the British Museum in the United Kingdom and was named by an English zoologist, Richard Owen in 1854. He wrote a description based on the neck bones received. 

“Her tummy would have been enormous. When the fossil was found, her leg was missing – it eroded away – and the tip of her tail is missing too,” says Choinere. 

The fossil was discovered in Clocolan, a small town in the Free State, and excavated by James Kitching. Kitching was a South African vertebrate palaeontologist and regarded as one of the world’s greatest fossil finders.  

Despite him not having had any formal education, Wits University’s senate permitted him to register at the institution where he became a professor after completing his research on Karoo fossils in 1972. 

The Origins Centre’s curator Tammy Hodgskiss Reynard says, “Early mammals, dinosaurs and plant fossils [are on display].” The current exhibition covers South African geology, landscapes and research done over the years. 

Reynard told Wits Vuvuzela that the museum is in the process of launching new features and spaces on the augmented reality app for Origins Centre on September 24, 2021. Users will be able to “hear” the dinosaurs and experience them “coming to life”. 

Anyone can download the free app called Origins Centre Augmented Reality (AR) for a virtual experience of the Origins Centre Museum. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Professor Jonah Choiniere (left) and Tammy Hodgskiss Reynard (right) standing besides ‘Big Momma’ at the Origins Centre Museum at Wits University. Photo: Melissa Sima