Amtocephale – The Ancient Head of the Gobi Desert

Amtocephale – The Ancient Head of the Gobi Desert

Let’s embark on a journey back in time, to an era when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Today, we’re delving into the world of a remarkable creature, the Amtocephale, a dinosaur whose story is as fascinating as its name.

Amtocephale Key Facts

Meaning of nameAmtgai Head
Type SpeciesAmtocephale gobiensis
When it Lived93.9 to 83.6 MYA
PeriodLate Cretaceous
EpochTuronian to the top of the Santonian
Length3.3 feet
HeightAround 1.0 foot
Weight8.8 lbs
MobilityOn 2 legs
First DiscoveryUnknown
Location of first findAmtgai, southern Gobi Desert, Mongolia
First Described by2011 by Mahito Watabe, Khishigjaw Tsogtbaatar and Robert Sullivan
HolotypeMPC-D 100/1203

Amtocephale Origins, Taxonomy and Timeline

Amtocephale gobiensis, a name that resonates with the echoes of ancient Mongolia. The name, meaning “Amtgai Head,” is derived from Greek “cephalo”, meaning “head,” and it’s a nod to the region of its discovery, Amtgai in the Gobi Desert. The species name gobiensis refers to the Mongolian Gobi desert.

Life restoration of Amtocephale

Belonging to the Ornithischia group and classified within the pachycephalosaurid family, Amtocephale is a testament to the diversity of dinosaur life. This unique genus, Amtocephale, with its type species Amtocephale gobiensis, adds a fascinating chapter to the story of dinosaurs. 

The timeline of Amtocephale stretches across the Late Cretaceous Period, specifically from the Turonian to the top of the Santonian Age. This places it in a time range of about 93.9 to 83.6 million years ago (MYA), making it potentially one of the oldest known pachycephalosaurids according to its first publication in 2011.

Discovery & Fossil Evidence

The holotype of Amtocephale gobiensis was found in the Baynshire Suite Formation (Turonian-Santonian) near the locality of Amtgai, southern Gobi Desert, Mongolia. 

Later finds and studies, particularly the original publication of the taxon by Watabe and his team in 2011, have shed light on the unique features of Amtocephale. The nearly complete pachycephalosaurid frontoparietal dome discovered is a key piece of evidence, offering insights into its anatomy and place in the dinosaur family tree.

Amtocephale gobiensis (MPC-D 100/1203, holotype). A, dorsal, B, ventral, C, anterior, D, posterior and E, lateral views
Amtocephale gobiensis (MPC-D 100/1203, holotype). A, dorsal, B, ventral, C, anterior, D, posterior and E, lateral views,
Robert M. Sullivan at Research Gate

The degree of preservation of this specimen, cataloged as MPC-D 100/1203, has been instrumental in understanding the phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary history of pachycephalosaurids. According to later studies in 2021, Amtocephale is an early-diverging member of the Pachycephalosaurinae, a group of pachycephalosaurids that includes twelve valid taxa, such as Pachycephalosaurus wyominggensis and Goyocephale lattimorei.

Amtocephale Size and Description

The exact size of Amtocephale is difficult to decifer. The fossil evidence we have, primarily the frontoparietal dome, provides some clues about the size of its skull. Specifically, the dome has a maximum thickness of 19 mm and a length of approximately 53.2 mm. However, without additional skeletal elements or specific size estimates, it’s challenging to determine the overall size of the dinosaur. As of now, the available fossil specimens don’t support a comprehensive size estimate for Amtocephale.

Amtocephale size
PaleoNeolitic, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Amtocephale in Detail

Amtocephale stands out in the dinosaur world for several reasons. Firstly, its potential status as one of the oldest known pachycephalosaurids is a significant point of interest. This places it at a crucial point in the evolutionary timeline of these dinosaurs.

Secondly, Amtocephale possesses special physical features. One of these is the deep supratemporal fossae. Think of these as deep pockets or hollows in the bones at the top of its skull. Another unique thing about it is that it doesn’t have supratemporal fenestrae. These are usually like windows or openings in the skull that many other dinosaurs have, but Amtocephale does not.

These special features, if not the product of hasard evolution, could eventually tell us about how this dinosaur lived and survived. They give us clues about how it adapted to its environment and how it might have used these features to stay alive and thrive in its world. So, these aren’t just random quirks; they’re important hints about the dinosaur’s lifestyle and survival skills.

The holotype specimen, MPC-D 100/1203, has been a cornerstone in understanding Amtocephale. Its preservation and analysis have contributed significantly to our knowledge of this dinosaur, offering a glimpse into a world long gone.

Contemporary Dinosaurs

Imagine Amtocephale, with its sturdy dome-shaped head, wandering through the lush, fern-covered terrain. It was a world where size often dictated the rules, and Amtocephale, though not the largest, was a creature of resilience and grit.

The Gobi desert, in both Mongolia and China, has delivered several dinosaurs, such as Tarbosaurus, Gallimimus, Saichania, Gobititan, Avimimus, Gobisaurus and many more. Among them, a few are contemporary to Amtocephale.

The colossal Segnosaurus, a large-bodied therinosaur, towered over most of its contemporaries. In comparison, our Amtocephale was a mere speck, almost like a robust, scurrying beetle under the shadow of an elephant. Yet, despite its smaller stature, Amtocephale wasn’t just a passive bystander.

Then there was Erketu, the long-necked marvel, stretching its neck towards the heavens. While Erketu was more concerned with the canopies above, its sheer size and feeding habits would have undoubtedly impacted Amtocephale’s world. The gentle giant’s movements could have shaped the landscape, inadvertently creating new feeding grounds or shelters for our main dinosaur.

In this mezozoic tapestry, Amtocephale was not just a creature trying to survive; it was an integral part of a complex ecosystem, where each interaction, whether competitive or observational, played a role in shaping its existence. This ancient world, with its giants and defenders, was where Amtocephale carved out its story, one small but significant step at a time.

Interesting Points about Amtocephale

Amtocephale in its Natural Habitat

Imagine the Gobi Desert, not as we know it today, but as it was during the Late Cretaceous Period. This was the world of Amtocephale, a landscape that was likely quite different from the arid expanse we see now.

As a herbivore, Amtocephale would have grazed on the vegetation of its time, navigating the terrain with its unique physical attributes. The type of environment, climate, and specific plant life that constituted its diet, however, remain subjects of speculation and ongoing research.

The social behavior of Amtocephale, whether it was a solitary wanderer or moved in herds, is another intriguing aspect. Similarly to its relative Pachycephalosaurus, Amtocephale could have been practicing head-butting with his fellows. Its role in the ecosystem, its interactions with other contemporary species, and its overall impact on the landscape are fascinating topics that continue to captivate scientists and enthusiasts alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

When was this dinosaur discovered?

Amtocephale was at an unknown date in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia. It was described in 2011.

What does its name mean?

The name Amtocephale means “Amtgai Head,” referring to the region of its discovery.

What type of dinosaur is it?

Amtocephale is a Pachycephalosauridae, known for its distinctive dome head and possible head-butting behaviors.

What did it eat?

As a herbivore, Amtocephale fed on the vegetation of its time.

What makes it unique?

Its potential status as one of the oldest known pachycephalosaurid and its unique anatomical features make it unique.

Where was it found?

It was found in Amtgai, southern Gobi Desert, Mongolia.


The information in this article is based on various sources, drawing on scientific research, fossil evidence, and expert analysis. The aim is to provide a comprehensive and accurate overview of Amtocephale. However, please be aware that our understanding of dinosaurs and their world is constantly evolving as new discoveries are made.

This article was last fact-checked: Joey Arboleda, 11-01-2023; Alienor Duhamel, 11-13-2023