Where did dinosaurs come from, anyway?
A Tanzanian fossil may help close the evolutionary gap between "true" dinosaurs and dinosaur relatives, shedding new light on how these iconic, prehistoric reptiles came into being.
A new paper published in Biology Letters describes Nyasasaurus parringtoni, a two-legged dinosaur that could be the earliest known member of the Dinosauria clade. A drawing of what the dinosaur likely looked like can be viewed here.
There are some reservations: as the specimen is only partial, and its unclear if Nyasasaurus is actually a dinosaur, or merely an extremely close relative, says the Natural History Museum.
Read more from GlobalPost: Dinosaurs much smaller than once believed, scientist says
Nyasasaurus parringtoni was first named by popular English paleontologist Alan J. Charig in the 1950s, and was first uncovered in the 1930s, according to the Natural History Museum—but its remarkable possible origins have only come to light this year, after new research was carried out on its remains.
Charig, who died in 1997, researched the specimen while pursuing his PHD In the 1950s, but was never able to publish his work.
Lead paper author and University of Washington post-doctoral research in biology Sterling Nesbitt told Seattlepi.com that the dinosaur was about the size of a Labrador Retriever, and lived around 243 million years ago in the Middle Triassic period—that's 10 million years before other known dinosaur species.
Nesbitt told Seattlepi.com that the find "establishes that dinosaurs likely evolved earlier than previously expected and refutes the idea that dinosaur diversity burst onto the scene in the Late Triassic, a burst of diversification unseen in any other groups at that time."
Further, Nyasasaurus's discovery in Tanzania indicates that dinosaurs may have originated in southern Pangea, the landmass that turned into what we now know as Africa.