Northwestern China had fossils hidden under the ground, which made scientists rethink the evolution of long-necked dinosaurs – the largest animals that roamed the Earth.
On 24 July, scientists announced that they discovered fossils of an early member of sauropods – the herbivore dinosaurs that had long necks, long tails, and small heads. They called the fossil Lingwulong shenqi and determined that it lived during the Jurassic Period, about 174 million years ago.
Lingwulong shenqi is translated to “amazing dragon from Lingwu,” with Lingwu being the nearest city where a farmer who was herding sheep discovered the fossil.
Archeologists uncovered bones from 8-10 Lingwulong specimens, one of which being almost 57 feet long (17.5 meters), explains the lead author of the study, paleontologist Xing Xu (Chinese Academy of Sciences).
The study was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.
Lingwulong is the first discovered advanced member of the sauropod lineage, having some anatomical traits that distinguish it from its ancestors which appeared tens of millions of years before Lingwulong.
Before discovering Lingwulong, scientists believed that sauropods appeared 15 million years later. The sauropod lineage would later include other giants from Jurassic like Diplodocus and Brontosaurus and the Cretaceous giants – Argentinosaurus, Dreadnoughtus, and Patagotitan – the largest animals on the land ever to be recorded.
Rethinking Sauropods’ History
The co-author of the study, paleontologist Paul Upchurch (University College London) explains why the discovery is essential in rethinking the evolution of these dinosaurs:
“Previously, we thought all of these advanced sauropods originated around 160 million years ago and rapidly diversified and spread across the planet in a time window perhaps as short as 5 million years. However, the discovery of Lingwulong means that this hypothesis is incorrect and we now have to work with the idea that, actually, this group and its major constituent lineages originated somewhat earlier and more gradually.”
There are two other important facts discovered with these fossils: one would be that Lingwulong were living in herds, just like other sauropods because the researchers found fossils from many individuals in the same place. The other fact would be the time when Earth’s continents split:
Lingwulong was part of a subgroup that was believed to be absent from East Asia because it started evolving right after land started splitting from Pangaea, says Xu:
“Our discoveries indicate that eastern Asia was still connected to other continents at the time.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.