Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 6 December - Fossils left to fester for eighty years point to new discovery of oldest dinosaur

Scientists have rediscovered dinosaur fossils which predate the earliest previous specimens by 10-15 million years, a new study in Biology Letters suggests.


Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 6 December

Fossils left to fester for eighty years point to new discovery of oldest dinosaur


Scientists have rediscovered dinosaur fossils which predate the earliest previous specimens by 10-15 million years, a new study in Biology Letters suggests.

The bones of Nyasasaurus parringtoni were first discovered by English palaeontologist Rex Parrington in the early 1930s, but had been gathering dust in the National History Museum’s storeroom in London until they were formally documented and analysed this year.

Co-author of the report Paul Barrett, of the Natural History Museum, said: "It fills a gap between what we previously knew to be the oldest dinosaurs and their other closest relatives.

"There was this big gap in the fossil record where dinosaurs should've been present and this fossil neatly fills that gap," he told the BBC.

Mr Parrington and his team excavated six vertebrae and upper arm bone from the Ruhuhu Valley in southern Tanzania. The giant reptile was named after Lake Nyasa, today called Lake Malawi, – where the fossils were discovered – and the expedition leader.

The bones have been dated to the mid-Triassic period – the Arisian age. Previously only fossils of the dinosaurs’ closest relative Silesaurids had been found from this era. Until recently, Prosauropods were considered the oldest known species of dinosaur.

Sterling Nesbitt, a palaeontologist at the University of Washington and leader of the recent study, could not yet confirm Nyasasaurus parringtoni as a dinosaur, but said that even if the fossils were not that of a dinosaur, the specimen was certainly a sister-species or ancestor.

He was hopeful after identifying a distinguishing dinosaur feature of the fossils. "It's called a deltopectoral crest, and it holds shoulder muscles to the upper arm bone. All dinosaurs have this elongated crest," he told National Geographic.

The prehistoric creature walked on two legs, was 2-3 metres in length and had a large tail measuring 1.5 metres. Scientists believe it weighed between 20-60 kilograms. The significance of Mr Parrington’s discovery was not realised until recently when a team at the National History Museum used modern scanning technology to compare the bones with similar ones from the South Africa Museum, Cape Town.

The discovery also supports the idea that dinosaurs originated in the southern part of supercontinent Pangaea – the large land mass that existed before the continents shifted into separated regions. The south included what we now know today as Africa, Australia, South America and Antarctica.


Did you know?


Dino record-breakers:

Longest: Seismosaurus, which measured more than 40 metres long - the length of five double-decker buses.

Heaviest: Brachiosaurus, which weighed 80 tonnes – the same as 17 African elephants.

Tallest: Also goes to the Brachiosaurus which was 16 metres tall and 26 metres long.

Smallest: The bird-like Lesothosaurus, which grew to the size of an adult chicken.

Fastest: Ormithomimids, like Dromiceiomimus, could probably run up to 60 kilometres per hour.

Slowest: Stegosaurus. With its heavy plating, this species was only able to move at 4-5 miles per hour.

First dinosaur discovered: While legends of “giant” and “dragon” bones being found stretch back more than 2,000 years, the first dinosaur to be scientifically described was Megalosaurus, which was found in 1824 by British fossil hunter William Buckland.

Related resources


Who are the dinosaurs?

  • From their diets to fossils, these resources are packed with information for your dinosaur unit.

Dino tour song

  • Try this tune to take pupils back to the time of the dinosaurs.

Natural History Museum

  • Find out what schools can do at the museum with this pupil-made video.


Prehistoric lessons

  • Check out the TES dinosaur collection and turn your classroom into a palaeontology lab.


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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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is launching a blueprint for the eradication of Aids across the globe, on the eve of World Aids Day 2013.



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