World's earliest dinosaur found in 'valley of unknown species'

Remains of the oldest dinosaur in the world have been unearthed at a fossil site on Madagascar in a find that may explain the origin of the biggest creatures ever to walk the Earth.

Remains of the oldest dinosaur in the world have been unearthed at a fossil site on Madagascar in a find that may explain the origin of the biggest creatures ever to walk the Earth.

Palaeontologists were led by a Malagasy youth called Mena from a remote village on the island to the fossil collection, which the scientists describe as "spectacular" in research published today in the journal Science.

The fossils - named Mena, in honour of their discoverer - date from the middle to late Triassic period, between 225 and 230 million years ago. They are believed to be older than the 228 million years of the current record-holders, herrerasaurus and eoraptor.

The team's leader, John Flynn, a palaeontologist at the Field Museum, in Chicago, said many of the fossilised species found at the site were new to science. "They are exquisitely preserved. They show a level of detail far superior to everything else from that time," he said.

Andrew Wyss, a fellow investigator and associate professor of geology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, recounted the surprise find. "A boy said that his older brother had found some bones. So we waited around a half-day for the brother, Mena, and sure enough he showed us a hill with a mound of them."

The group has so far unearthed the jawbones of two dinosaurs, which have revealed that the creatures belonged to a group known as the prosauropods, herbivores with small heads and long necks that could walk on either two or four legs. The prosauropods are believed to have been the ancestors - or closely related to the ancestors - of the mighty sauropods such as apatosaurus and diplodocus, which evolved millions of years later.

The fossils also contain a rich collection of bones belonging to three members of a branch of vertebrate animals that includes modern-day reptiles and five members of a line that led to mammals.

The scientists have not yet carried out any radioisotope dating but they have two reasons to believe that the dinosaur is over 228 million years old. First, the anatomical details of two of the accompanying fossils suggest that they are older than creatures known to have existed 228 million years ago. Second, an armoured reptile called the aetosaur, abundant 228 million years ago, is conspicuously absent from the Mena fossils.

Dr Flynn said the find may even help to explain how the break-up of the ancient supercontinent Pangaea, which began in the Triassic period, affected the course of evolution.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

Technical Sales Manager

£45000 - £53000 Per Annum plus bonus plus package: The Green Recruitment Compa...

Humanities Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Outstan...

SQL DBA/Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL DBA/Developer SQL, C#, VBA, Data Warehousi...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor