A new analysis of an ancient enigma offers clues as to how dino evolution unfolded
Everybody knows about dinosaurs. How could we not? They’re everywhere, from museum halls and Hollywood blockbusters to city sidewalks where their modern, feathery representatives pick up crumbs with their beaks. But even while we adore the terrifying Tyrannosaurus and breathtaking Brachiosaurus, we still know next to nothing about the earliest dinosaurs that arose over 235 million years ago—and who exactly they evolved from.
That may be about to change, thanks to a new analysis of an enigmatic creature from the ancient rock of Tanzania. This crocodile-like beast, it turns out, plays a starring role in the origin story of the terrible lizards.
The story of this new dinosaur predecessor, described by Virginia Tech paleontologist Michelle Stocker and colleagues in a Naturestudy published today, picks up in 1933. That’s when British paleontologist Rex Parrington collected some unusual bones from the 245 million-year-old rock of southern Tanzania. Those bones rested in storage until 1956 when paleontologist Alan Charig categorized them as some sort of archosaur, part of the major group of reptiles that includes dinosaurs and other lineages—but it was difficult to say where exactly the species fell.