Evidence for Earliest Dino?

New analyses of fossils found in the 1930s suggest that a labrador-sized biped lived around 243 million years ago, potentially making it the oldest known dinosaur.

By | December 6, 2012

Mark Witton, Natural History Museum, LondonPaleontologists think they may have identified the oldest dinosaur known to science, a long-necked labrador-sized biped that lived on the ancient supercontinent Pangaea around 243 million years ago. Published this week (December 5) in Biology Letters, the findings push back the date for the dawn of the dinosaurs by at least 10 million years, though the authors and other scientists have cautioned that the fossils may represent a close relative of the dinosaurs rather than the earliest member of the dinosaur family.

The fossil evidence for the species, called Nyasasaurus parringtoni, was first discovered in the 1930s in southern Tanzania by Rex Parrington, a paleontologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. One of Parrington’s students, Alan Charig, who studied the fossils for decades, thought the bones represented the earliest known dinosaur—but never published his conclusions. 

In the new study—which lists Charig as a co-author—Sterling Nesbitt of the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues systematically compared the skeletal fragments with those of other dinosaurs and their relatives, and found a number of features in the arm and vertebrae of Nyasasaurus that are characteristic of true dinosaurs. They concluded that Nyasasaurus was “either a dinosaur or the closest relative” of the dinosaurs.

At the very least, then, the findings indicate that close ancestors of dinosaurs existed around 10 million years earlier than the oldest known dinosaurs, Eoraptor and Eodromaeus. The study also suggests that early dinosaur radiation “occurred over a longer timescale than previously thought,” the authors wrote.

Michael Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol, told ScienceNOW that the authors are right to be “properly conservative” in recognizing that Nyasasaurus may not be a true dinosaur. Even so, he added, the existence of a close dinosaur relative that early “guarantees [that dinosaurs] must have originated then also.”

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Avatar of: Atiyah


Posts: 5

December 6, 2012

Recently, I have studied the chapter of evolution in my biology class. I do find it interesting to get to know how a species evolved from an ancestor. Wish to get to know more!

Avatar of: jeenious


Posts: 45

December 6, 2012

Atiyah, if you truly want to know more about any field of science, you will do well to do some reading on philosophy of science. It will give you some appreciation for the general limits of scientific evidence and interpretation.

Scientists are human. And, being human, they are subject to suffering all the normal and usual human failings, including the ego-defense mechanisms -- one of which is denial, or the inability to recognize one's own biases, despite being well able to recognize and villify them in others. Among thos failings (which include the denial of one's own blinding biases) are: egocentricity;ethnocentricity; anthropocentricity; intellectual and professional elitism; self-serving rationalization of ethical standards; radical empiricism; and more.

To recognize these human weaknesses, even among those who attempt -- or claim, or genuinely attempt, to overcome them -- is not a condemnation of science nor scientists. It is only to recognize science and scientists for what they are which, namely, are efforts to strive to be more than, or better than, human weaknesses, and thus optimize human coping.

Science (as the study of nature in a way that strives to rise above human biases and weaknesses) is an ideal and thus, like all ideals, is unachievable in the absolute. It is a noble and productive ideal. And to genuinely strive for any noble and productive ideal stretches the striver to the limits of his or her ability.

That being understood, let me urge you to seek not merely a memorization and conformation of your thinking to current assertions made by science teachers, textbook writers, and intellectuals (in many cases brilliant and sincere, though self-biases-blind)individuals who would seek to pass along their own blindnesses to you.

Let me urge you to read and think and seek maturity in your science literacy -- which requires maintaining an open-mind, and an open-ended view of scientific progress. Seek to grasp, and to factor into your openness to learn, a realization that, if we look back at ANY former time in the history of the sciences, and compare the so-called knowledge of that day to current so-called knowledge, we find misunderstandings and biases and comparative ignorance. The wonderful thing about science is that it continues to update and upgrade itself, as new students and workers and teachers are born and older ones die, and this cycle goes on, and will go on so long as no one INSISTS upon freezing it in place at some point, and thus killing its ability to CONTINUE to self-correct.

There are, among teachers and workers in the sciences, some individuals, perhaps even many individuals, who pretend -- or who actually believe -- they know things that have not yet been ruled in for a certainty, and strongly disbelieve anything that has not actually been ruled out.

The ultimate "scientific attitude" results from an ability to take stances, based upon one's collection of reasonably reliable data, but to leave the mind open and eager to be corrected if and as and when new findings shall upset the applecart. Throughout the history of the sciences, the apple cart of belief -- even formal consensuses among scientists and science academicians -- has been overturned, again and again. Yet, in every age, scientists of the day have tended to have amazingly strong commitments to what was the current wisdom they and their peers reinforced through communications among themselves. In every age so far, scientists have tended to look with disdain upon what was deemed the ignorance of anyone who doubted they (those scientists) perceived to be "knowledge."

By all means do continue to learn about biological evolution. But also learn about evolution in physics, which goes far, far beyond the limits of biological evolution, because biological evolution is confined to within the concept of what is "life." Many hypotheses now held as stances among biologists are neither proved as a certainty nor disproved as a certainty. Any belief that expresses anger or resentment or disparagement of those who disagree with one's own unprovable/undisprovable assumptions is dogma.

If you study philosophy of science and history of science, as well as the current views of individuals working and teaching within the sciences, you hopefully will gain a realistic sense of the ebb and flow of ideas, and the nature of open-mind. You will become highly appreciative of the limits of human ability to observe, measure and interpret objectively. And hopefully you will learn the kind of open-minded, open-ended ideal that enables us humans to do as well as we do in learning, despite our incurable human shortcomings. And when you have attained that, if you do, then you will have what might appropriately be conceived as "mature scientific literacy."

Maturity of any kind does not mean certainty, nor absolute correctness, nor -- especially -- it does not mean a sense of feeing that oneself, or one's teachers, nor even the best of a current day's science literature,have arrived at a clear and certain kind of wisdom.

To progress in science is to do the best one can to pull together the best evidence one can from the best sources one can, and to interpret that as best one can with as little entrenched bias as one can.

Again, the goals of science are an ideal, and all ideals are ultimately unachivable in whole, but are achievable as a means of stretching human objectivity and understanding as far upward in their limits as is humanly possible.

Knowing one's limits, and seeking to rise only as far as one can -- without losing awareness of those limits, might be a good way of looking at any kind of maturity.

Perhaps you will choose to work or teach in the sciences. If you do, let you and me hope you take to that purpose and open mind, and the quality most valuable to scientiric progress: the ability to say, at any juncture in your learning and teaching, "However, I COULD be wrong and, if so, I want to know it."

Avatar of: Atiyah


Posts: 5

December 8, 2012

Thank you so very much dear Jeenious. This is so helpful and encouraging, really appreciate it. I will try my best to read as much as I could on philosophy of sciences, and find out more on this field to keep myself updated, as you mentioned that science keeps updating and upgrading itself. I am looking forward to learn more and more on the discovery of sciences. 

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