Paleontologists Discover New Dinosaur Species That Lived 252 Million Years Ago

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Life reconstruction of the new species Teleocrater rhadinus, a close relative of dinosaurs.  CREDIT: Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales

Among more than 2,000 ancient fossils found in an African excavation, paleontologists have discovered new species of some of the earliest dinosaurs. 

Paleontologists didn't know much about the early Triassic below the equator before conducting this research. Through a decade of research, nine different month-long digs in two countries, and partnerships across several institutions, paleontologists now better understand how life on earth existed as the first dinosaurs evolved. 

The scientists published a series of papers detailing discovered and studied fossils found across Tanzania and Zambia from 252 million years ago. During this time, the Triassic, both countries were part of one enormous landmass called Pangea, consisting of all the continents squished into one.

The skull of a gorgonopsian, a distant mammal relative and top predator during its pre-dinosaur era about 255 million years ago. This fossil was collected in 2009 in Zambia. This is not a dinosaur. CHRISTIAN SIDOR/UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

On Wednesday, a team of researchers published 13 new studies, as part of a project now totaling 37 papers. Detailed in this research were more than 2,000 new fossils, information about the ancient environment, and fossils of Teleocrater, an early dinosaur relative that was discovered in 2017, according to Discover magazine.

Researchers also found a lizard-like reptile called procolophonid, as well as some very early dinosaurs, according to a press release. By comparing the finds to others made in the southern hemisphere, including Antarctica, researchers were able to draw a more complete understanding of the Triassic world. They published their findings in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

"These papers highlight what a regional perspective we now have—we have the same fossils from Tanzania, Antarctica, Namibia and more," Christian Sidor, a University of Washington biology professor and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture said in a statement. "We're getting a much better Southern Hemisphere perspective of what's going on in the Triassic."

Two hundred and fifty-two million years ago, the time to which the fossils are dated back, was an important time in earth’s history. After the End-Permian mass extinction event, much of life on earth had gone extinct, and the few, unremarkable animals that remained were starting to diversify. It was from these early-Triassic animals that mammals and dinosaurs would eventually evolve.