The Loveable Ammonite

Why Palaeontologists Love Ammonites

Surrounded by various dinosaur fossils such as bones, pieces of eggshell, gastroliths (stomach stones) and even some fossilised Sauropod poo (coprolite), in our offices, it is easy to get carried away with Dinosaurs.  However, over the weekend, whilst working on some new product additions we got the chance to discuss the importance of Ammonites to scientists.

Ammonites are a large group of Mesozoic cephalopods, close relatives of squid, cuttlefish and the octopus, these are the animals that lived in flat-sided, coiled, planispiral shells (most Ammonites had these type of shells).  Originating in the late Silurian, most likely from more simple, straight shelled molluscs, the Bactritoids these animals survived numerous mass extinction events and became one of the most abundant life forms in Mesozoic marine environments, along with their close cousins the Belemnites.

The Bactritoids (orthoconic shelled animals – means straight shells), originated sometime in the Devonian Period and persisted until the early Triassic.  As well as being considered the ancestors of the Ammonites and Belemnites they are believed to be the ancestors of the soft-bodied cephalopods still around today (coleoids such as squid, octopus and cuttlefish).

To see a model of a Jurassic Ammonite: Dinosaur Toys – Dinosaur Models

Ammonites diversified during the Mesozoic and there were hundreds of different species.  Their shells (made of aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate), are readily preserved under the appropriate conditions and this is why we have such an extensive fossil record of this particular Sub-Class of Cephalopods.

A Typical Mesozoic Ammonite

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

As fossils of these creatures are very common they are important to palaeontologists and geologists as they can help identify the relative ages of different rock strata.  Their diversity and rapid evolution into many forms help scientists to work out the order in which sediment strata was laid down, in this way the relative age of rocks can be calculated in relation to each other.  Ammonite fossils provide a biological “key” with which palaeontologists can date the deposition of strata, in fact many layers and sequences of rocks are named after the Ammonite fossils they contain.  This process of using fossils to help identify the age of deposits is known as biostratigraphy.  Due to the abundance of Ammonite fossils and their world-wide distribution, rock sequences many thousands of miles apart can be dated using this method.  The particular Ammonite fossils associated with each layer of rock are called “zonal fossils”.  Dinosaur fossils in contrast, do not make good zonal fossils.  They are very rare, usually found as incomplete and not laid down in a marine environment only very occasionally can dinosaur remains be considered as potential zonal fossils – the Hypsilophodon bed on the Isle of Wight being a possible example.

Towards the end of the Cretaceous the Ammonites as a group began to decline.  The fossil record shows that there were fewer and fewer genera (although some evolved into very bizarre and ornate forms in the late Cretaceous).  The group went extinct along with the Belemnites at approximately the same time as the dinosaurs.  Why this particular group died out, yet the similar looking Nautilus survived is unclear.  There are two species of Nautilus around today, indeed, our studies of these animals have helped fill in the gaps in our knowledge about Ammonites.  One theory as to why the Nautilus survived whilst the Ammonites died out is that on close examination the shell of Nautiloids are thicker than that of Ammonites.  Modern day Nautilus live in relatively deep water, Ammonites seem to have been a creature of shallow seas.  The thicker shells of the Nautiloids are able to withstand the greater water pressure at depth.

If the marine environment had been subjected to a prolonged period of darkness (dust in the atmosphere from a meteorite impact for example), then the photosynthesising plankton would have died off and this would have broken up the food chain.  The deeper living Nautiloids may have been better able to cope than the surface dependent Ammonites.  Also, such environmental impacts would have severely disrupted the breeding cycles and destroyed much of the larval stage populations.  This too could have contributed to the Ammonite extinction.  In addition, if large ammonites of carbon dioxide sulphur hydroxide had been deposited in the seas, this would have led to extensive acidification of shallow, marine environments and this may have prevented the Ammonites from being able to form their shells properly – again helping to reduce the population of these animals.  These factors along with the rapidly evolving new Teleost fish (modern fish) which may have predated on Ammonites and the competition from other cephalopods may have resulted in the extinction of this very important, and once diverse animal group.

Marine Reptile Called Attenborosaurus

The Short-Necked Plesiosaur Called Attenborosaurus

Attenborosaurus superficially resembled a marine reptile called a Plesiosaur, with its long neck and relatively small head.   Indeed, when the first fossils of this marine reptile were discovered in rocks on the Dorset coast (Jurassic coast) of southern England in the late 19th Century; it was classified as a member of the Plesiosaur family.  At the time, relatively little was known about the short-necked Pliosaurs when compared to the extensive Plesiosaur material that had been discovered at famous Jurassic fossil locations such as Lyme Regis.  As a result, despite having an almost complete skeleton to study, this marine reptile was formally assigned to the Plesiosaur family, being named Plesiosaurus conybeari by the eminent British geologist William Johnson Sollas in 1881.

It was only much later when casts and replicas of the the holotype fossils were studied by a team of American vertebrate palaeontologists with a much larger Pliosaur fossil record to compare the fossils against, was the “Plesiosaur” known as P. conybeari reassigned to the Pliosaur group.

An Illustration of the Marine Reptile now referred to as Attenborosaurus

Named in honour of Sir David Atttenborough.

Named in honour of Sir David Atttenborough.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a model of Attenborosaurus in the Collecta prehistoric animal model range: Collecta Prehistoric Animal Models and Figures

Embracing new Technology – Everything Dinosaur Newsletter

Novel Technology used to Produce Everything Dinosaur Newsletter

The science of palaeontology is being advanced all the time, what with new research into existing fossil specimens and the unearthing of new fossils, many of which represent unknown species.  Advances in technology and improvements in methods have enabled scientists to do some amazing things, from examining the braincase of a Tyrannosaur using CAT scans to examining invertebrate fossils in fluorescence chambers to identify fine detail.

Certainly, things have moved on since the days of the simple desk mounted microscope.  Likewise advances in software technology has enabled the Internet to become a much more accessible place.  Most homes now have broadband as standard and this has enriched the lives of many surfers.  We at Everything Dinosaur have been investigating the power and potential of a new software programme that enables us to produce electronic versions of brochures and catalogues.  Team members have just put together our first ever piece of “e-literature” – an eight page newsletter that informs readers about our little company, explains about what we do and shows some of our products.

The New Everything Dinosaur Newsletter

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Visitors to our website can click on the “Newsletter” button and be transported to a special site that hosts our eight page newsletter.  Once there, visitors can use the “zoom” options to focus in on an article, use the mouse to turn pages, click links and all sorts of interactive stuff.  It is like publishing a brochure without having to use paper or to go to the trouble of printing, which makes this system good for the environment.

The picture above shows some of the pages from the new Everything Dinosaur newsletter.  On view is an article on the plans for commemorating the birth of Charles Darwin – the “Darwin 200″ in 2009, plus features on cake making and dinosaurs for girls.  In the centre of the screen a yellow box has been highlighted.  This is one of the many embedded links in the document which when clicked will take readers to related information – really cool.  The controls for navigating around the newsletter are easy to master and this does represent a great way to keep our many thousands of customers and visitors to our various websites informed about our activities and plans.

This type of technology is helping to provide more information for website visitors and provides an enriched website visit – perhaps we can add more newsletters and maybe even take readers on a virtual tour of one of our fossil hunting expeditions.

Spanish Dinosaur Remains may be New Species

Spanish Palaeontologists unearth potential New Species of Brachiosaur

A team of Spanish palaeontologists digging at a site near the remote village of Morella in eastern Spain, have uncovered the remains of what might turn out to a newly discovered dinosaur.

Fossils unearthed to date, indicate a long-necked dinosaur, known as a Sauropod.  It is not clear which type of Sauropod the animal may be, but from the remains found it is probably a representative of the Brachiosauridae, a member of the Macronaria (long-necked dinosaurs with large nostrils, bigger than the orbit of their eyes).  The scientists hope they will eventually recover most of the giant animal´s bone structure, a palaeontologist leading the excavation said today.

“It’s a very exciting find, because you rarely come across the bones in their original skeletal shape,” Jose Miguel Gasulla, one of four leaders of the dig in the Valencia region, commented.   Indeed, finding a Brachiosaur fossil with any of the bones in an articulated or associated position is an extremely rare event.

“We have found vertebrae, ribs and a thigh bone of a very big adult dinosaur from the early Cretaceous period,” Mr Gasulla added, the dimensions of some of the bones indicate a very large creature.  The femur (thigh bone) for example, is 1.80 metres long (as tall as a man) and some of the ribs are 2.40 metres long (higher than a doorway in an average house).

A Mounted Skeleton of a Typical Brachiosaur

Picture Credit: W. D. Heinal (University of Bonn)

The picture shows the mounted skeleton of a Brachiosaur on display at the Humboldt museum in Berlin.

The remains date from the Cretaceous period, approximately 120 million years ago (Aptian faunal stage). Most Brachiosaurus remains are associated with the earlier Jurassic and Cretaceous fossils such as these from Spain may help scientists piece together how the Brachiosaurs evolved and changed over time, helping to advance our knowledge about this particular group of dinosaurs.

The 14-strong excavation team have many months of work ahead of them but they are optimistic that these finds could represent a new species of Brachiosaur.

Discussing the problems on the dig site, the team have commented that although the fossil bones are large, they are extremely delicate.

Mr Gasulla added: “the vertebrae are big, but fragile, filled with air cavities to make them lighter. If you have a neck six to eight metres long, how do you lift that huge weight?  So the bone content was reduced by air holes.”

The region, known as the Maestrazgo, is rich in dinosaur remains, and the site between the towns of Morella and Cinctorres was spotted as promising in 2002. But excavation began only in 2005, when the project obtained funds, initially from a wind energy company, then with the support of Valencia’s regional government.

The naming of a new species of Brachiosaur may be more difficult than the team anticipate as a debate is currently raging in palaeontological circles with regards to a number of specimens classified as Brachiosaurs dated from the Jurassic.  Fossils found in the Morrison Formation when compared to those found in East Africa may indicate different genera.  Some palaeontologists have re-classified the African fossils as a new genus of dinosaur called (appropriately enough), Giraffatitan “titan Giraffe”.

To read more about this issue: The debate between Brachiosaurus and Giraffatitan

Brachiosaurs remain one of the most popular and distinctive of all the dinosaurs, with their long forelimbs and Giraffe-like posture.  Brachiosaurus features in our regular dinosaur surveys and is a fixture in the top twenty most popular dinosaurs.

To view a model of a Brachiosaurus: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models

What Some of Us Did on our Summer Holidays

What we Did on our Summer Holidays – Dinosaur Activity Days

Everything Dinosaur is a company staffed by qualified teachers, parents and real dinosaur experts.  Combining teaching skills with a knowledge of palaeontology, team members are able to assist teachers and youth group leaders by providing lesson plans and teaching resources to help young people learn more about Earth sciences.

Not only do we provide a support service to schools, educational establishments and home educators, supplying prehistoric animal themed teaching materials and advice in support of national curriculum criteria but we frequently are invited into schools to help bring a little bit of real life science to the classroom.

Dinosaurs continue to be a source of fascination for young people and interest in these animals can provide a basis for reinforcing knowledge, skills and understanding in many subject areas.  After all, not many people get the chance to talk to people who actually dig up dinosaurs, or handle real fossils including dinosaur teeth and bones.

For us, these sort of activities don’t stop when the schools break up for the holidays.  Our team members are in demand by play-schemes, leisure centre clubs and other local authority run programmes, helping to entertain and inform young people as part of the planned Summer activities.

At the Science “coal face” quizzed over Theropod teeth

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

The children really like to get hands-on with the fossils, and whether it is casting their own replicas, creating their own prehistoric scene or helping to solve the puzzle of what colour dinosaurs were; one thing is guaranteed – we get bombarded with lots of really amazing questions.  It can be hard work trying to answer them all, but is also a lot of fun for the team members who participate.

Dinosaur Drawings mini Conference

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Team members at Everything Dinosaur are continually creating a range of accurate, exciting and educational products and services.  Our aim and intention is to motivate young people to learn more about science by participating in hands-on activities.   We are helping to engage and inspire the next generation of young scientists.  Outside visits can be arranged and the company remains dedicated to assisting with children’s understanding of science and helping to make learning fun.

Neanderthals Not as Stupid as Thought

Anglo American Research indicates Neanderthal Technology on a par with H. Sapiens

The popular myth of the slow, sluggish, ape-like Neanderthal being driven to extinction by the superior Homo sapiens is being further challenged by a new study into Neanderthal technology by a team of British and American researchers.

It is important to note that the Neanderthals were a highly successful human species, physically better adapted to the harsh, cold climate of Europe during the Pleistocene than modern humans.  They were probably capable of complex speech and our view of the culture has been revised with recent fossil finds.

Neanderthals have had a bad press, this is partly due to the inaccurate and flawed interpretation of a nearly complete skeleton found at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France in 1908.  The skeleton was discovered by monks building a new Abbey and examined by the renowned French scientist M. Boule.  A number of leading academics, including Boule believed that Neanderthals were not closely related to modern humans, the absence of any knowledge about DNA or the true nature of genetics at the time did not help with a resolution to this matter.  This specimen was used to demonstrate the differences between the two species, the Neanderthal, was a stooping, ape-like animal, the stance and posture gave illustrators license to represent Neanderthals as hairy and brutish looking.  The skeleton found at La Chapelle-aux-Saints was of an elderly male with chronic arthritis.  This condition had deformed the bones and this led to the depiction of a slow, clumsy, dim witted Neanderthal.

Now research by UK and American scientists has struck another blow to the theory that Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) became extinct because they were less intelligent than our ancestors (Homo sapiens), Neanderthals were very capable and efficient tool makers, at least as good as our own species. The research team has shown that early stone tool technologies developed by us – Homo sapiens, were no more efficient than those used by Neanderthals.

Published in the Journal of Human Evolution, their discovery helps to refute a textbook belief held by archaeologists and anthropologists for more than 60 years.

The team from the University of Exeter, Southern Methodist University, Texas State University, and the Think Computer Corporation, spent three years flintknapping (making stone tools). They knapped stone tools known as ‘flakes,’ which were wider tools originally used by both Neanderthals and by the first modern people, and ‘blades,’ a narrower stone tool later adopted by Homo sapiens. Archaeologists often use the development of stone blades and their assumed efficiency as proof of our superior intelligence. To examine this hypothesis, the scientists analysed a number of tools that were produced, studying how much cutting-edge was created, the efficiency in consuming raw material and how long tools lasted.

It is known that Neanderthals did use stone tools in slightly different was to our own species, for example their grip was much stronger and they were more capable of making powerful scraping strokes on animal hide.  They also may have held animal skins in their teeth (wear marks on enamel my indicate this) and manipulated them this way whilst scraping of the flesh to make hides and to access all the meat on a carcase.

Stone blades were first produced by Homo sapiens during their colonisation of Europe from Africa approximately 40,000 years ago. This has traditionally been thought to be a dramatic technological advance, helping modern humans out-compete, and eventually oust the Neanderthals.  Yet when the research team analysed their data there was no statistical difference between the efficiency of the two technologies. In fact, their findings showed that in some respects the flakes favoured by Neanderthals were more efficient than the blades adopted by our own species.

Many long-held beliefs suggesting why the Neanderthals went extinct have been debunked in recent years. Research has already shown that Neanderthals were as good at hunting as Homo sapiens and had no clear disadvantage in their ability to communicate.  Although, they probably did have different hunting strategies and techniques.  Evidence from fossil Neanderthal bones reveal many injuries, the sort of damage that would have occurred if the Neanderthal got up close and personal with his or her quarry.  Their spears were better designed for thrusting rather than throwing so this too indicates that they brought down prey at close quarters.  Now, these latest findings add to the growing evidence that Neanderthals were no less intelligent than our ancestors.

Metin Eren, an MA Experimental Archaeology student at the University of Exeter and lead author on the paper comments:

“our research disputes a major pillar holding up the long-held assumption that Homo sapiens were more advanced than Neanderthals.  It is time for archaeologists to start searching for other reasons why Neanderthals became extinct while our ancestors survived. Technologically speaking, there is no clear advantage of one tool over the other. When we think of Neanderthals, we need to stop thinking in terms of ‘stupid’ or ‘less advanced’ and more in terms of ‘different.’”

Now that it is established that there is no technical advantage to blades, why did Homo sapiens adopt this technology during their colonisation of Europe? The researchers suggest that the reason for this shift may be more cultural or symbolic. Eren states:

“colonising a continent isn’t easy. Colonising a continent during the Ice Age is even harder. So, for early Homo sapiens colonising Ice Age Europe, a new shared and flashy-looking technology might serve as one form of social glue by which larger social networks were bonded. Thus, during hard times and resource droughts these larger social networks might act like a type of ‘life insurance,’ ensuring exchange and trade among members on the same ‘team.’”

This extract has been sourced from:
University of Exeter (2008, August 26). New Evidence Debunks ‘Stupid’ Neanderthal Myth.

Plateosaurus – Triassic Giant

Plateosaurus A Member of the Sauropodamorpha

Known as “Flat Lizard”, vast herds of Plateosaurs roamed across what was to become Europe during the Late Triassic.  Growing to lengths in excess of eight metres and perhaps weighing as much as four metric tonnes, the Plateosaurs were amongst the very first dinosaurs to grow extremely large.  Although most probably vegetarian, studies of the teeth of these dinosaurs show that they were robust enough to tackle prey and it has been speculated that occasionally these lumbering giants may have supplemented their diet of coarse vegetation by scavenging the carcases of dead animals.  Although not regarded as nimble, it has even been suggested that these long-necked dinosaurs could catch prey, perhaps they could trap smaller reptiles with their large, five-clawed hands.

An Illustration of the Dinosaur Known as Plateosaurus

A rearing Plateosaurus.

A rearing Plateosaurus.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Several skull studies indicate that these heavy dinosaurs had the same skull bone arrangements found in living raptors (eagles and hawks).   These skull bones would have helped these dinosaurs focus on small objects or objects at a distance, perhaps this anatomical trait also hints at a more blood thirsty life style than previously thought.

Collecta have made a wonderful hand-painted model of Plateosaurus: Collecta dinosaur models

Potential Fossil Treasure Trove in Venezuelan Tar Pit

South American Tar Pits may Yield Fossil Treasure Trove

Tar pits are wonderful places to find fossils.  They form when natural asphalt seeps upwards from fissures in the overlying sediment above oil bearing rocks.  This asphalt collects in pools on the surface and rainwater collects on top, forming a thin watery film over the sticky tar.  The water reflects the sky and helps conceal the dangerous tar just below the surface, when thirsty animals come to drink at these “pseudo waterholes” they become stuck fast and mired and if the tar pit does not engulf them straight away the poor, unfortunate animals will starve to death.  Their cries will attract predators and scavengers on the look out for an easy meal and they too will become stuck in the heavy tar.

Perhaps the most famous tar pit site in the world is at La Brea, in downtown Los Angeles, California.  The word “Brea” is Spanish for tar.  La Brea has trapped an extraordinary number of Late Pleistocene animals, a surprising number of the area’s victims are carnivores.  Hundreds of Dire Wolves (Canis dirus) and many Sabre-Tooth Cats (Smilodon sp.) have been trapped and preserved along with numerous smaller predators such as foxes, coyotes, skunks, weasels and even badgers.  When cataloguing the huge number of fossils of meat-eaters it has been noticed by American scientists that many of the carnivores were very young, very old or suffering from injuries.  Among the Sabre-Tooth Cats for example, a large proportion of the specimens recovered from La Brea show signs of back trouble, with vertebrae of the lower back often fused together.  Whether this is an inherent weakness in the backs of these animals or the result of an injury sustained is unclear.  Perhaps the easy pickings of the tar pits encouraged diseased, injured, elderly or the inexperienced members of an animal population to gather round La Brea.

Perhaps South America will soon have its equivalent of La Brea.  Ancient tar pits have been discovered in Venezuela as the state oil company excavated an oil pipeline in the eastern state of Monagas.  Researchers have claimed that this is the most significant fossil find for 60 years.

The prehistoric tar pits have yet to be fully mapped and explored but it is believed that they cover approximately 3 acres in size and date from the Late Pliocene, a time shortly after the continents of North and South America became connected by a land bridge.

The palaeontologists studying the site hope that fossils preserved in the tar pits will give them a better understanding of the interaction between migrating large mammal populations as once isolated ecosystems in North and South America converged and mingled together.

If this new site yields a number of Sabre-Tooth specimens this may help the scientists to learn more about the development of the Smilodon genus.

An Illustration of a Sabre-Toothed Cat

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To see a model of a Sabre-Tooth Cat: Dinosaur Toys for Girls and Boys – Dinosaur Models and Toys

Before the land bridge was formed, occasional falls in the Atlantic and Pacific ocean levels may have turned some present-day seabeds into land, allowing animals to migrate across chains of islands in the West Indies and what is now the countries of Panama and Costa Rica.

Isle of Man Remains Bronze Age not Neolithic

Isle of Man Remains Bronze Age – but show Evidence of Tragedy

A team of archaeologists working at a site on the Isle of Man have uncovered evidence of a potential ancient tragedy on a site, once thought to be Neolithic but now dated to the Bronze Age.

The team from Lancaster based Oxford Archaeology North have been mapping and excavating an area of Bronze Age settlement discovered as the island’s airport is extended.

They are working on a theory that fire could have burnt part of the Bronze Age village to the ground.  The fire may have been so devastating that the village was abandoned and subsequently only used as a burial ground.  This may explain why three skeletons were found at the site, the area becoming a graveyard rather than being used as a settlement after the disastrous fire.
When the prehistoric human remains were found, they made headlines around the world.  At this time, it was thought the site dated from the Neolithic but further research and a close examination of the many pottery fragments found indicate a more recent Bronze Age settlement.
The excavations have been completed some two weeks ahead of schedule and the site, approximately 4 acres in size, is now ready for construction work to resume.It is now believed that what has been uncovered is a further part of a Bronze Age village first discovered when the runway was built in the 1930s.

Several of the half-dozen circular structures unearthed at the site featured charred earth indicating evidence of burning.  These were the homes and storage areas for these Bronze Age people.  The archaeologists believe these are Bronze Age homes dating back 3,500 years that appear to have burnt down.

Two cairns, in which were found the human skeletons, appear to be slightly more recent. One of the burials contained fragments of a ring or bangle which had been worn around the upper arm.  This indicates that after the fire the area may have undergone a change of use with the locals abandoning it and only using it for burials.

Andrew Johnson, field archaeologist at Manx National Heritage, said: “We now think these circular structures are Bronze Age homes. It certainly seems possible that some of these buildings have in some way been burnt down.

The site stretches from a south west to a north east direction and it does seem likely that if fire took hold in the south west then, given the direction of the prevailing wind, the possibilities of disaster are obvious. It’s an interesting speculation”.
Johnson went on to state: “The cairns appear to have been built slightly later, potentially after the conflagration. Perhaps in what psychologists would now describe as a process of closure, the settlement’s use was changed from a living community to a place of the dead.”
The Remains of a Circular Cairn
Picture Credit: IOM
Hundreds of pottery shards and pieces of worked flint were recovered, together with domestic rubbish in the form of shellfish and bones.  These items will be further analysed so that the scientists can build up a picture of living conditions on the island more than 3,000 years ago.Mr Johnson said the age of the remains had been revised after a much more detailed look at the pottery fragments. Radiocarbon dating may be used to get a more accurate date for the human skeletons.

He said: “We are certainly not disappointed that we are now looking at Bronze Age rather than Neolithic remains, absolutely not. Slight revision of working theories goes with the territory.
This dig has been an enormous success in terms of working with the airport and the construction team. It has been quite a difficult job but everyone involved in it can feel justifiably proud”.
All artefacts have been removed for study and conservation and a preliminary report will be prepared by Oxford Archaeology. It is likely that the team will return in the spring of 2009, when construction work moves to the eastern end of the airport where the promontory is to be built out to sea.

Commenting on the excavations, airport director Ann Reynolds said: “I understand that no archaeological project of this scale and complexity has been undertaken in the Island before in the course of a major construction contract. It has been a major achievement for all concerned”.Mrs Reynolds confirmed the runway project had not been delayed and was scheduled for completion by December 2009.

New Clues to Origin of Dinosaurs Unearthed

German Scientists Declare “Sensational” Dinosaur Discovery

The town of Bernburg in the Saxony-Anhalt province of central Germany may be best known for its imposing castle overlooking the river Saale upon which the town is situated but all that may change very soon.  A team of scientists working at a dig site in a quarry near the town have discovered fossilised bones that may prove to be the oldest record of dinosaur life yet found.

The fossil bones, a series of fragments have been found in strata dating from the very beginning of the Age of Reptiles, the very start of the Triassic age.  The fossils have been dated to approximately 250 million years ago (Induan faunal stage).  Finding vertebrate fossils in lower Triassic strata is a rare event in itself as the world was just beginning to recover from the mass extinction that marked the end of the Permian period and the start of the Mesozoic era.  Germany was part of eastern Laurentia that itself formed the northern part of the super-continent Pangea.  Much of the landmass was devoid of life and covered with harsh deserts but in areas where rivers drained from inland mountains lush ribbons of life thrived along these natural drainage systems.

If the fossils found at Bernburg are proved to be the ancestors of Dinosauria, something akin to an Archosaur then this puts the evolution of dinosaurs back 15 million years earlier than previously thought.  The exact origins of the dinosaur taxon are unclear, the paucity of the fossil record prevents a complete understanding of the evolution of dinosaurs from “proto-dinosaurs”.  Up until now the oldest dinosaur fossils have been found in Argentina with small, bipedal animals such as Eoraptor lunensis (means “Dawn Thief”) or Staurikosaurus pricei (means “Southern Cross Lizard”) vying for the title of oldest dinosaur known.  These animals date from approximately 230 million  years ago (Ladinian faunal stage) or Mid Triassic.

But the new discoveries could radically change palaeontology’s understanding of the dawn of the Triassic age, and the evolution of  Dinosauria.

“This is a spectacular, unique achievement,” said regional archaeology chief Harald Meller, announcing the discovery.

He said that the crucial remnants ­had been secured and were being prepared for further research, but the German authorities called on amateur enthusiasts and fossil hunters to stay away from the site, for fear of damaging potential further finds.

It was certainly in the Triassic that the dinosaurs began to emerge as the dominant reptiles on Earth, diversifying rapidly towards the end of this period to form the numerous families that were to dominate life on Earth up until 65 million years ago.  The Triassic period was named by a German geologist, Dr Friedrich August von Alberti in 1834, seven years before the term Dinosauria was coined by Sir Richard Owen.  Dr Alberti studied the different types of fossils to be found in three distinct types of sediments that had been laid down over much of Germany and northern Europe.  This type of formation is called a Trias and Alberti noted that they all formed a sequence of deposition, what is termed today as a system.  It is from this sequence of three types of strata laid down that the Triassic got its name.

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