Above: An artist's impression of a Welsh specimen of Dracoraptor hanigani, dated at 201 million years old.
It happened 201 million years ago in Wales: a dinosaur fell off a cliff face to its death, and now scientists have found it — the “Dragon Thief.”
It’s formal name is Dracoraptor hanigani, and at 201 million years old, it’s the oldest known Jurassic dinosaur in the UK, according to a BBC report.
And it’s an important find because it will help scientists better understand dinosaur evolution.
Researchers found about 40 percent of the animal’s skeleton, including key features like teeth, the skull, and foot bones. That’s a pretty complete skelton compared to most finds, which often rely on just a handful of bones to completely reconstruct the animal.
At 201 million years old, Dracoraptor hanigani comes just after the Triassic period and right at the beginning of the Jurassic period, which ended 145 million years ago.
Because scientists understand so little about the very first stages of the Jurassic, it’s a valuable find. Scientists have been hunting for early Jurassic specimens for a while, making this one a gem of a find.
Mr. Vidovic, a co-author of the study, said in a statement: “The Triassic-Jurassic extinction event is often credited for the later success of dinosaurs through the Jurassic and Cretaceous, but previously we knew very little about dinosaurs at the start of this diversification and rise to dominance. Now we have Dracoraptor, a relatively complete two meter long juvenile theropod from the very earliest days of the Jurassic in Wales.”
The scientists believe that the dinosaur was meat-eating, and was a distant relative of the T. rex. It certainly wasn’t as large though, probably only reaching 70 centimeters in height and 200 centimeters in length. During the time it lived, it was probably much warmer in south Wales than it is today, and it marked the beginning of diversification of dinosaurs.