The claim for world’s oldest dinosaur has a new contender. The bones of the Nyasasaurus parringtoni were found after researchers re-examined a number of bones that were first collected from what is now Lake Malawi in southern Africa. As reported by BBC, scientists estimate that this new species existed 10 to 15 million years before the previous earliest dinosaur specimens.
“It fills a gap between what we previously knew to be the oldest dinosaurs and their other closest relatives,” said Paul Barrett, researcher at the Natural History Museum in London. “There was this big gap in the fossil record where dinosaurs should’ve been present and this fossil neatly fills that gap.”
Researchers claim that the reptilian creature might have walked on two, although this might be difficult to surmise considering the fossil record consists of one upper arm bone and six vertebrae. For evidence of this claim they point to an “elongated deltopectoral crest” that served as an anchor for strong pectoral muscles. This feature is defining of species considered to be a dinosaur. But it’s possible this interpretation is incorrect, which cannot be known for certain until a complete skeleton is found for the purported world’s oldest dinosaur.
The Nyasasaurus parringtoni was estimated to measure between two to three meters in length with a large tail and weighed between 20 and 60 kilograms. As a comparison to the world’s oldest dinosaur, the Komodo dragon grows as large as three meters and up to 70 kilograms, which is about 150 pounds.
“Those animals were the earliest of this group that led up toward dinosaurs,” explained Dr Barrett. “Now this takes dinosaurs back to the right kind of time when those two groups would have split apart from each other. Dinosaurs start out as a very insignificant group of reptiles – all relatively small animals, relatively rare in comparison with other reptile groups – and 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.”
Researchers stop short of claiming the Nyasasaurus parringtoni is definitely the world’s oldest dinosaur. Even dating estimates can be suspect, as shown by the reevaluation of the age of the Grand Canyon. Scientists will typically have competing hypotheses until new evidence leads to an accepted theory. Even artistic renditions change dramatically, with a scientist’s preference pushing physical features that might not be present. Still, it’s possible that by digging in around a museum they managed to find the world’s oldest dinosaur.