World's oldest dinosaur found – in a museum storeroom
Bones locked away for more than half a century overturn previous theories
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent and i. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; four times highly commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigations into the tobacco industry. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Wednesday 05 December 2012
A set of fossilised bones kept for more than half a century in the dusty storerooms of the Natural History Museum in London belonged to the earliest-known dinosaur to roam the land.
Scientists have confirmed that the fossils, which were first unearthed in the 1930s in Tanzania, are those of a Labrador-sized dinosaur that lived at least 10 to 15 million years earlier than the previous oldest-known dinosaur.
The dinosaur probably stood upright on two legs and was between two and three metres long with a metre-long tail. However, scientists do not know whether it was a carnivore or herbivore because no teeth or jaws were preserved.
They have named the extinct species Nyasasaurus parringtoni after Africa's Lake Nyasa, now called Lake Malawi, and Cambridge University's Rex Parrington, a palaeontologist who discovered the fossils in East Africa.
Parrington handed over the rocks and fossilised bones to his PhD student, Alan Charig, who carried out an initial assessment of the bones in the 1950s and was still working on the project at the Natural History Museum when he died in 1997.
The fossils were then stored away again until they were re-examined by a team from Britain and the US. They found the creature's arm bones bear the key characteristics of dinosaurs and that it must have grown rapidly, another distinguishing feature of dinosaurs. The fossils have been dated to between 247 million and 235 million years ago, a geological period known as the Triassic when Africa was part of a giant supercontinent called Pangaea, which included South America, the Antarctic and Australia.
"If the newly named Nyasasaurus parringtoni is not the earliest dinosaur, then it is the closest living relative found so far," said Sterling Nesbitt of the University of Washington in Seattle, who collaborated on the study published in the journal Biology Letters.
"It establishes that dinosaurs likely evolved earlier than previously expected and refutes the idea that dinosaur diversity burst onto the scene in the Late Triassic [Period], a burst of diversification unseen in any other groups at that time," Dr Nesbitt said.
Paul Barrett, a dinosaur expert at the Natural History Museum, said: "Although we only know Nyasasaurus from fossil fragments, the anatomy of its upper arm bone and hips have features that are unique to dinosaurs, making us confident that we're dealing with an animal very close to dinosaur origin."
Dinosaur fossils are found throughout the world. However, the discovery confirms that dinosaurs probably originated in the southern hemisphere and migrated north, probably with the movement of the continents.
"These new findings place the early evolution of dinosaurs and dinosaur-like reptiles firmly in the southern continents," Dr Barrett said.
- 1 Caitlyn Jenner car crash: Driver who died in collision sued by surviving passengers for $18.5m
- 3 Watch the Supermoon live: How to see the brightest Moon of the year tonight
- 4 Hulk Hogan wants to be Donald Trump's running mate in the US Presidential election
Caitlyn Jenner car crash: Driver who died in collision sued by surviving passengers for $18.5m
Celebrity Big Brother 2015: Tila Tequila kicked off show after 'describing Hitler as a good man'
Watch the Supermoon live: How to see the brightest Moon of the year tonight
Hulk Hogan wants to be Donald Trump's running mate in the US Presidential election
Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Stock up on canned food for stock market crash, warns former Gordon Brown adviser
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...
£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...
£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...