Scientists Discover Oldest Known Dinosaur Relative

An international team of researchers has found that the closest relatives of dinosaurs were more distinct creatures than they had expected. In the journal Nature, the team, including Randall Irmis of the Utah Museum of Natural History and the University of Utah and Sterling Nesbitt of the University of Texas at Austin, describes a proto-dinosaur that was rather squat, walked on four legs, probably ate plants or a combination of plants and meat, and lived around 10 million years earlier than dinosaurs.
The species, called Asilisaurus kongwe (derived from “asili”—Swahili for ancestor or foundation; “sauros”—Greek for lizard; and “kongwe”—Swahili for ancient) is the first proto-dinosaur recovered from the Triassic period in Africa. The first bones of Asilisaurus were found in 2007, and fossil bones of more than a dozen of the creatures were recovered from a single bone bed in southern Tanzania.
Asilisaurus kongwe is part of a newly recognized group known as silesaurs, which were scattered across the globe during the Triassic period, before the continents had separated, a write-up of the research notes. Silesaurs are the closest relatives of dinosaurs, analogous to the relationship between humans and chimps. The oldest dinosaurs discovered so far are 230 million years old, and the presence of their closest relatives 10 million to 15 million years earlier implies that silesaurs and dinosaurs of the bipedal, carnivorous sort had already diverged from a common ancestor by 245 million years ago. Silesaurs lived side by side with early dinosaurs throughout much of the Triassic period. Other relatives of dinosaurs may have also originated much earlier than previously thought, the researchers believe.

Category: Discoveries

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