A newly described species of dinosaur discovered in China has challenged theories about the evolution of some of the largest creatures that ever walked on land.
In a study published in the Nature Communications, researchers reported of a new Chinese species of sauropod that raises questions on theories about the history of the long-necked dinosaurs.
Amazing Dragon Of Lingwu
The discovery of the creature named Lingwulong shenqi, which means the "amazing dragon of Lingwu," suggests that sauropods emerged about 15 million years earlier than previously believed.
Xing Xu, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and colleagues excavated the fossils in several quarries on the slope of a hill near Ciyaopu in the city of Lingwu. A local farmer named Ma Yun found several fragmented fossils on the hillside and sent these to local officials, which prompted an investigation. Paleontologists eventually excavated bones from at least eight Lingwulong individuals.
The anatomical traits of Lingwulong suggest it is the earliest known advanced member of the sauropod family, and different from the primitive sauropods that first emerged tens of millions of years earlier.
The newly-found dinosaur was a neosauropod, a group of long-necked herbivores that include the Brontosaurus and Diplodocus.
Rewriting The History Of Sauropods
Research earlier suggested that the neosauropod thrived in the late Jurassic period between 163 million and 145 million years ago but researchers estimate the Lingwulong shenqi fossils were 174 million years old. This suggests that the neosauropods were roaming Pangea much earlier in the Middle Jurassic period.
"This type of dinosaur is from the Middle Jurassic and at that age it is unexpected, as for this lineage of sauropods we only have fossils from later deposits," said Xu. "That means a whole group of different sauropod lineages must have appeared on the planet earlier than we thought."
The fossils also provided evidence that these long-necked dinosaurs were in East Asia much earlier than previously thought when Pangea was still a large landmass.
"This discovery has major implications for calibrating the timing of neosauropod diversification, provides the first insight into a previously hidden aspect of their evolutionary history, and questions East Asia's hypothesized status as an isolated island continent during the Jurassic," Xing Xu and colleagues wrote in their study.
The researchers that the Lingwulong is also the first ever neosauropod from Asia. Scientists thought for a long time that these species did not get into Asia during the Jurassic period.