The First Dinosaur?
A fossil of what may be the world’s oldest dinosaur is discovered in an unlikely place
Scientists may have discovered the world’s oldest dinosaur—not buried under the earth, but sitting on a shelf. A team led by Sterling Nesbitt found the beast’s bones in the Natural History Museum in London. They decided to take a second look at these forgotten fossils, which consist of six vertebrae and an upper-arm bone.
The scientists studied minerals from the earth where the bones were discovered and compared them with rocks from around the globe. They found that the bones were from the Middle Triassic period, 10 million to 15 million years before the oldest known dinosaurs were thought to have existed.
The upper-arm fossil had traits seen in dinosaurs and their closest relatives. The shape of the arm bone also matched that of early dinosaurs.
Nesbitt’s team concluded that the specimen was most likely a new species of dinosaur, which they called Nyasasaurus parringtoni. This species was about the size of a large dog. It had a long tail and stood upright on two legs.
The newly discovered species gives evidence that the earliest dinosaurs lived in the Southern Hemisphere. These dinosaurs probably developed alongside several other reptile species before finally taking their place as the dominant life-forms on Earth.
The fossilized bones were first found near Lake Nyasa in Tanzania by Cambridge University paleontologist F. Rex Parrington. (A paleontologist is a scientist who studies prehistoric life.)
Parrington gave the bones to his student Alan Charig. Charig studied the fossils for 40 years. He named the unknown species Nyasasaurus, or “Nyasa lizard.”
Charig believed the bones were either from the earliest dinosaur or from a very close relative. Other paleontologists didn’t agree with him, so he never published his findings. The fossilized bones were tucked away in a storeroom at the Natural History Museum, where Nesbitt and his team recently found them.
“What’s really neat about this specimen is that it has a lot of history,” Nesbitt said. “Found in the ’30s, first described in the 1950s but never published, then its name pops up but is never validated. Now 80 years later, we’re putting it all together.”
Nesbitt’s team is excited about what this discovery shows. The team is now planning to do further research on Nyasasaurus parringtoni—this time in the field, not in a storeroom!