Biology Letters
Restricted accessPalaeontology

The oldest dinosaur? A Middle Triassic dinosauriform from Tanzania

Sterling J. Nesbitt

Sterling J. Nesbitt

Burke Museum and Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

[email protected]

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,
Paul M. Barrett

Paul M. Barrett

Department of Earth Sciences, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK

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,
Sarah Werning

Sarah Werning

Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-4780, USA

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,
Christian A. Sidor

Christian A. Sidor

Burke Museum and Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

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and
Alan J. Charig

Alan J. Charig

Department of Earth Sciences, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK

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Published:https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2012.0949

    The rise of dinosaurs was a major event in vertebrate history, but the timing of the origin and early diversification of the group remain poorly constrained. Here, we describe Nyasasaurus parringtoni gen. et sp. nov., which is identified as either the earliest known member of, or the sister–taxon to, Dinosauria. Nyasasaurus possesses a unique combination of dinosaur character states and an elevated growth rate similar to that of definitive early dinosaurs. It demonstrates that the initial dinosaur radiation occurred over a longer timescale than previously thought (possibly 15 Myr earlier), and that dinosaurs and their immediate relatives are better understood as part of a larger Middle Triassic archosauriform radiation. The African provenance of Nyasasaurus supports a southern Pangaean origin for Dinosauria.

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