A team of palaeontologists has discovered what they think is the oldest known dinosaur: a new species which pre-dates previous earliest dinosaur specimens by 15 million years. But they didn't have to go on an expedition or get their hands dirty to find it — they merely stumbled across it in a museum store room.
The fossilised remains were first found in Tanzania during the 1930s. They were studied on and off from the 1950s with little luck, and wound up in the store room of the Natural History Museum in London. Now, they've been re-examined and dated to between 247 million and 235 million years ago. That puts them between 10 and 15 millions years older than the previous oldest dinosaur remains.
The new species of dinosaur walked on two legs, measured around three metres in length, had a large tail and weighed up to 60kg. It's been named Nyasasaurus parringtoni, after Africa's Lake Nyasa, where it was found, and Cambridge University's Rex Parrington, who originally found it. The finding is published in Biology Letters. Paul Barrett, from the Natural History Museum, explained to the Independent:
"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...
"These new findings place the early evolution of dinosaurs and dinosaur-like reptiles firmly in the southern continents."
The finding neatly fills a gap that puzzled scientists in the past, where there was no link between the ancestors of dinosaurs and the massive lizards themselves. Now, the hole is filled and palaeontologists can rest easy. Not bad for something they found in a cupboard. [Current Biology, Independent, BBC]
Image: Natural History Museum/M Witton