Evidence of what is likely the oldest known dinosaur has been identified, Nyasasaurus parringtoni, believed to have wandered the Earth 10-15m years prior to any previous species, and with no new digging involved. Scientists at the Natural History Museum in London, the University of Washington, and the University of California Berkley re-examined bones previously gathered in southern Africa, finding an incomplete skeleton of the new species, and casting new light onto the evolutionary track of the “terrible lizards.”
Until now, there had been confusion as to how dinosaurs and another species, silesaurs, related; these new findings seemingly confirm that silesaurs and early dinosaurs co-existed. “It fills a gap between what we previously knew to be the oldest dinosaurs and their other closest relatives” research co-lead Paul Barrett said of the discovery.
“There was this big gap in the fossil record where dinosaurs should’ve been present and this fossil neatly fills that gap” Barrett explained. “Those animals were the earliest of this group that led up toward dinosaurs. Now this takes dinosaurs back to the right kind of time when those two groups would have split apart from each other.”
The fact that the skeletal remains are only partial, however – consisting of a single upper arm bone, along with six vertebrae – means that the researchers have held off from claiming Nyasasaurus parringtoni is indeed the oldest dinosaur. The so-called “elongated deltopectoral crest” in-among the bones are said to be “unambiguously those of dinosaurs.”
Still, there’s enough to give a good indication of what Nyasasaurus parringtoni may have looked like. Believed to have been 2-3 meters long, and 20-60kg in weight, the early dinosaur would have had a large tail and a distinctively large chest section.