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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