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Nature & Environment Fossils of Oldest Dinosaur Traced

Fossils of Oldest Dinosaur Traced

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First Posted: Dec 05, 2012 04:36 AM EST
Fossil Dinosaur
Scientists have discovered a new baby dinosaur species that was devoured by a now-extinct member of the crocodile family. This image depicts the oldest known dinosaur ever found, different form the new one that was discovered. (Photo : Natural History Museum, London/Mark Witton / SL)

Scientists at the Natural History Museum in London have found fossilized bones that they believe belong to the oldest known dinosaur.  

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These mysterious fossils belonged to the first dinosaur that roamed the Earth named Nyasasaurus parringtonu. It was originally believed to have been a primitive prosauropod dinosaur but the theory has been invalided. Measuring 2.1 meters in length, the dinosaur existed some 247-235 million years ago.

Based on the fossils retrieved, the researchers determined that the animal likely stood upright, measuring 7-10 feet in length with hip measuring 3 feet and weight between 45 and 135 pounds, suggesting that dinosaurs began  relatively small before some species grew to larger sizes.

"From the few preserved bones, we estimate Nyasasaurus to be about 10 feet long with a long neck," lead author Sterling Nesbitt, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher in biology, told Discovery News. "These estimates are based on comparing the bones of Nyasasaurus to those of early dinosaurs and close relatives."

According to co-author Paul Barrett, vice president of The Paleontological Society and head of the Natural History Museum's Division of Fossil Vertebrates, Anthropology and Micropaleontology, Nyasasaurus was also probably lightly built for a dinosaur, bipedal and with long hind legs.

"For 150 years, people have been suggesting that there should be Middle Triassic dinosaurs, but all the evidence is ambiguous," Nesbitt was quoted in Seatlle Pi. "The new discovery establishes that dinosaurs likely evolved earlier than previously expected and refutes the idea that dinosaur diversity burst onto the scene in the Late Triassic, a burst of diversification unseen in any other groups at that time. But it now appears that dinosaurs were just part of a large diversification of archosaurs, which were among the dominant land animals during the Triassic period and include dinosaurs, crocodiles and their kin."

"What's really neat about this specimen is that it has a lot of history," Nesbitt was quoted by Seattle Pi as saying. "Found in the '30s, first described in the 1950s but never published, then its name pops up but is never validated. Now 80 years later, we're putting it all together."

Barrett concluded saying: "The new findings place the early evolution of dinosaurs and dinosaur-like reptiles firmly in the southern continents."

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