What is the oldest dinosaur fossil

Dinosaur fossil from museum turned out to be a significant find

Paris / London - It lay in the earth for around 160 million years before it was discovered - and then again for more than 80 years in the museum until scientists discovered how important the fossil is: It is the oldest known remains of one Dinosaurs from the group of the Titanosauriformes, which also include the Brachiosauridae.

The fossil was found in the 1930s in the French community of Damparis in France, but at that time it was not recognized as an independent species and ended up in the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Only now did a new investigation by scientists from Imperial College London bring to light what had been gathering dust here for decades: As you report in the journal "Peer J", the specimen is a previously unknown representative of the Brachiosauridae, which is now the scientific name Vouivria damparisensis carries. The name is derived from Vouivre, the French name for the mythological dragon Wyvern.

According to the researchers, the dinosaur weighed around 15 tons during its lifetime and was more than 15 meters long. Its equally long legs and long, stretched neck gave it a giraffe-like appearance. "Vouivria was a herbivore that consumed all kinds of vegetation - such as ferns and conifers," said Philip Mannion of Imperial College London.

Wide spread

Vouivria damparisensis lived in the Upper Jurassic around 160 million years ago - at a time when today's Europe still consisted of a number of islands, according to Mannion. "We do not know what this animal died of - but today the find provides us with important information on the evolution of the Brachiosauridae and the large group of Titanosauriformes to which they belonged."

The Titanosauriformes formed a diverse group of sauropod dinosaurs and were among the largest living things to ever exist on land. They lived from the Upper Jurassic to the end of the Cretaceous Period. The researchers suspect that they were widespread in the Lower Cretaceous, especially in what is now the USA and Africa, while they were already extinct in what is now Europe.

Contrary to previous assumptions, Mannion and colleagues rule out that the titanosaurs came as far as South America: The discovery of a fossil called Padillasaurus in Colombia in the 1990s was so far the only evidence of this. According to the researchers, the comparison with Vouivria damparisensis clearly shows that the Padillasaurus did not belong to the Brachiosauridae after all. Now the researchers hope to shed even more light on the history of these once giant vegetarians through further discoveries. (red, 7.5.2017)