World’s Oldest Dinosaur? Discovery Near African Lake Challenges Previous Scientific Assumptions
The bones were discovered approximately 80 years ago, near Africa’s Lake Nyasa (now known as Lake Malawi, seen in the illustration above this story).
But it’s only now that scientists are beginning to realize the significance of that discovery.
According to a group of American and British researchers, a set of bones at the Natural History Museum in London, England, might belong to the oldest dinosaur ever.
The scientists are still not 100% sure.
The reason: all they have to work with right now are an upper arm bone and six vertebrae – bones from the creature’s back.
But they strongly suspect that the bones came from a Nyasasaurus – a dinosaur that lived between 240 million and 245 million years ago.
That’s as much as 15 million years earlier than the earliest dinosaur previously discovered.
The researchers determined the age of the bones by using a scientific method known as carbon dating.
They say they tested the layer of rock in which the bones were found – and the layers above and below it – in order to get an accurate reading.
The results of those tests challenge what scientists thought they knew about the origins of dinosaurs – and when dinosaurs first came on the scene.
“Dinosaurs likely evolved earlier than previously expected,” said Sterling Nesbitt, a researcher at the University of Washington, in a report by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Even with just a few bones, the scientists say they’ve determined that the Nyasasaurus was approximately the size of a Labrador Retriever – with a five-foot-long tail on its hind end.
They say it probably measured seven to ten feet long altogether.
And it weighed between 45 and 135 pounds, which means it was probably pretty skinny.
The scientists also say the Nyasasaurus probably stood upright, on two legs.
And according to their report, its bones have a lot of characteristics in common with other dinosaurs.
For example, they say they found a distinctive, enlarged crest on the Nyasasaurus’ upper arm.
And they also found evidence that the creature’s bones grew very quickly – another trait that’s common among dinosaurs.
Until more bones are found, the experts say they can’t rule out the possibility that the bones they already have might have come from another reptile that was related to the dinosaurs – not a dinosaur itself.
“(But) if the newly named Nyasasaurus parringtoni is not the earliest dinosaur, then it is the closest relative found so far,” Nesbitt said.
Eventually, dinosaurs became the dominant creatures on our planet.
But that happened millions of years after Nyasaurus walked the Earth.
“Dinosaurs start out as a very insignificant group of reptiles – all relatively small animals, relatively rare in comparison with other reptile groups,” said Paul Barrett, a researcher from the Natural History Museum, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). “It’s only a bit later in their history that they suddenly explode and take over as the dominant forms of life for nearly 100 million years.”