Sunday, 9 December 2012

New contender for oldest dinosaur

Palaeontologists have found what is likely to be the oldest known dinosaur, filling in a yawning evolutionary gap.

study in Biology Letters describes Nyasasaurus parringtoni, a new species from 10-15 million years before the previous earliest dinosaur specimens.

It walked on two legs, measured 2-3m in length with a large tail and weighed between 20 and 60kg.

The find suggests that many millions of years passed between dinosaurs' first members and their dominance on land.

"It fills a gap between what we previously knew to be the oldest dinosaurs and their other closest relatives," report co-author Paul Barrett, of the Natural History Museum in London, told BBC News.

The find shores up the idea that dinosaurs evolved on the southern parts of the supercontinent Pangaea

"There was this big gap in the fossil record where dinosaurs should've been present and this fossil neatly fills that gap."

However, the team behind the work has stopped short of definitively calling N parringtoni the earliest dinosaur, because the fossil skeletons used to define it were incomplete: one upper arm bone and six vertebrae.

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