Dog-sized discovery could be oldest dinosaur yet - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 8 May 2013

Scientists in Canada have unearthed a new species of dinosaur that they believe is the oldest in North America and possibly the world.

Dog-sized discovery could be oldest dinosaur yet

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 8 May 2013

Scientists in Canada have unearthed a new species of dinosaur that they believe is the oldest in North America and possibly the world.

The dog-sized herbivore was discovered in southern Alberta and is thought to have roamed the plains of the newly formed continent around 85 million years ago.

The find of Acrotholus audeti has sparked suggestion that dinosaurs were more varied and diverse than first thought, with scientists claiming more smaller dinosaurs are yet to be found. Perhaps the widespread idea of vast creatures – in many ways like monsters – dominating the prehistoric world could be proven wrong.

Acrotholus’ fossil revealed it to have a dome-shaped skull that might have been used to headbutt other dinosaurs living at the time, or possibly as decoration.

The team of researchers from the University of Toronto unveiled the new species in the journal Nature Communications, stating it walked on two legs but stood no higher than a man’s knee, while it weighed 40kg (88lbs) and had a skull composed of solid bone 10cm (3inches) thick.

The skull places the new find into a specific group of dinosaurs called pachycephalosaurs, and it is thanks to their thick skulls that they have been discovered because they were more easily preserved as fossils.

Indeed, smaller dinosaurs, in particular, are much rarer in fossil records because their more delicate bones are less likely to be preserved.

Dr Michael Ryan, a co-researcher on the project and curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, said the dinosaur’s skull was key to its discovery.

“One of the interesting things about these small, dome-headed dinosaurs is that whenever you find them you typically find the skull cap, just like we did with Acrotholus,” Dr Ryan said.

“We find very little of the rest of the body. We occasionally find a few teeth or scraps of bones from the hands and feet but skeletons are extremely rare. When you compare the fossil records to that of larger dinosaurs like T. rex, we suspect smaller dinosaurs are underrepresented.”

Questions for discussion or further research:

  • What is 'evolution'?
  • Why do scientists continue to study extinct species? What do you think we might be able to learn from them?
  • Of all extinct species, why do you think that dinosaurs in particular have so captured people's imaginations?
  • Palaeontologists have different theories about what killed off the dinosaurs. Find out about as many theories as you can and decide which one you think is most likely.

Resources for you

What killed the dinosaurs?

  • Students can become prehistoric reporters with this lesson about the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Let’s go on a dinosaur adventure!

  • Take pupils on a prehistoric adventure with this great stimulus for creative writing.

Dinosaur topic

  • A collection of resources and planning to teach a topic on dinosaurs at EYFS.

Evolution and natural selection

  • Explore dinosaur extinction and evolution with this clear and colourful PowerPoint.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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