Following a discovery by two Welsh brothers, a fossil has been reconstructed likely making it the oldest Jurassic dinosaur to live in the United Kingdom and beyond.
Dinosaur found in South Wales
The dinosaur is a bit of an evolutionary marvel at the age of 201.3 million years, according to dating, because it puts the Dracoraptor haigani firmly at the beginning of the Jurassic Period, which followed the Triassic period. The two periods owe their separation to a mass-extinction event that saw the demise of half the Earth’s species. That extinction was likely caused by an asteroid strike though there are scientists that argue a prolonged period of volcanism was responsible.
Whatever the cause or if it was a combination of the two will be a debate that continues, but what is certain is that the Jurassic Period began the dominance of the dinosaur.
Drocoraptor translates to “dragon thief” while hanigani is a nod to Rob and Nick Hanigan who found the specimen (40% intact) in a cliff face at Penarth in South Wales in 2014.
The 40% they discovered included the skull, claws, teeth and foot bones made the reconstruction efforts by Dr Dave Martill from Portsmouth University and his colleagues quite an easy task owing to dinosaur body symmetry.
Additionally, the fossil was very well preserved in the cliff face making the dating of 201.3 million years quite accurate give or take 200,000 years.
Triassic gives way to Jurassic, beginning the dinosaurs’ dominance
“It’s right at that point in the diversification of dinosaurs where so-called therapod dinosaurs – the meat-eating ones – became what are called neotherapods. It’s from this moment onwards that they go on to become all the forms we know, like T. rex, Velociraptor and even birds,” explained team-member and co-author of the paper published in PLoS, Steven Vidovic.
“The reason we know the age of the dinosaurs – what we call the Mesozoic Era – is because of this Triassic-Jurassic extinction event. But we actually understand very little about that early phase of the Jurassic. It’s not until the Middle Jurassic that we get all the diversity and forms that you know from children’s books.
“So, everyone’s been hunting for these really early Jurassic specimens, going to exotic places in Africa, North and Central America, and then a couple of brothers stumble across something on a beach near Cardiff.”
The brothers were involved in the naming process following the scientists’ invitation and they went with the national symbol of Wales, the dragon. The scientists added hanigani to honor the brothers for their important find.