An artist's illustration of a Nyasasaurus from the middle Triassic of Tanzania. (Photo : Natural History Museum, London / Mark Witton)
Scientists at the Natural History Museum in London may have discovered the oldest known dinosaur. Nyasasaurus parringtoni, the dinosaur discovered, is believed to have lived 10 to 15 million years before any previously known dinosaurs, the Daily Mail reported.
According to the British newspaper, Nyasasaurus was the size of a Labrador, likely walked upright on two legs and had a five foot-long tail. The dinosaur's fossils were originally discovered during a Cambridge University expedition to Tanzania in the 1930s.
They were "gradually examined" by Natural History Museum paleontologist Alan Charig, before his death.
Researchers are unsure what the early dinosaur ate, NHM dinosaur expert Dr. Paul Barrett told the Daily Mail. He added, "We don't know what it ate because we don't have any of the teeth of skull. But other early dinosaurs had a mixed diet."
The new discovery could be the oldest ever found or "the closest relative found so far," University of Washington researcher Sterling Nesbitt said. "Nyasasaurus establishes that dinosaurs likely evolved earlier than previously expected and refutes the idea that dinosaur diversity burst onto the scene in the Late Triassic, a burst of diversification unseen in any other groups at that time."
However, the BBC reported that the team of researchers is not calling Nyasasaurus the earliest dinosaur because of the missing fossils.
The research team was able to find bone characteristics that are common to early dinosaurs and their close relatives, the Daily Mail reported. University of California, Berkeley, biologist Sarah Werning, who did the bone analysis, said, "We can tell from the bone tissues Nyasasaurus had a lot of bone cells and blood vessels."
"The bone tissue of Nyasasaurus is exactly what we would expect for animal at this position on the dinosaur family tree," Werning added. "It is a very good example of a transitional fossil; the bone tissue shows Nyasasaurus grew about as fast as other primitve dinosaurs, but not as fast as later ones."
The group's study was published in the journal Biology Letters.