A team of British and U.S. researchers are saying they have identified what they believe to be the oldest dinosaur fossils found to date. These fossils were actually found decades ago, however the remains were never formally documented and had not been closely examined until recent years.
The dinosaur fossils were originally found in Tanzania in the 1930s by a paleontologist named Rex Parrington, of the University of Cambridge. Parrington had been working in the Ruhuhu Valley of southern Tanzania when he stumbled upon the dinosaur fossils. No thorough examination had been done at the time and the fossils were placed into a storage location in London's Natural History Museum.
According to researchers, these dinosaur remains are dated to be approximately 243 million years old, reported the Telegraph. This places the dinosaur as living in the Middle Triassic Period. While researchers have long suspected that dinosaurs roamed the Earth in the Middle Triassic age, there has been no evidence to date. Before this dating, the oldest fossils were 10 million years younger and from the Late Triassic Period.
This now believed oldest dinosaur bears its founder's name and is called Nyasasaurus parringtoni.
"If the newly-named Nyasasaurus parringtoni is not the earliest dinosaur, then it is the closest relative found so far," said Sterling Nesbitt of the University of Washington, and lead author of the report. "For 150 years, people have been suggesting that there should be Middle Triassic dinosaurs, but all the evidence is ambiguous."
As research on the fossils commenced, researchers have concluded Nyasasaurus parringtoni was an upright standing dinosaur. It is believed it was three feet (80 centimeters) high and approximately 10 feet (3 meters) long; the dinosaur's tail was estimated to be approximately five feet long (1.5 meters). Nyasasaurus is thought to have weighed about 45-135 pounds (20-60 kilos), reported AFP.
"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."
The dinosaur's relatively small size in comparison to what people generally envision when they picture the giants that once roamed the earth. This suggests that dinosaurs may have grew larger over time.
The full paper was published on Dec. 5. And appears in Biology Letters, a journal of Britain's Royal Society.