A team of paleontologists has discovered jaws from two of the oldest dinosaurs ever discovered, and the remains of eight other prehistoric animals, in a rich bed of fossils in Madagascar, providing a 'time capsule' from the earliest days of dinosaurs and mammals and illuminating scientific understanding of the mid-late Triassic Period. The findings are reported in the October 22 issue of Science.
"We have discovered a spectacular new fauna of this age in southwest Madagascar," said Andre Wyss, associate professor of geology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and co-leader of the research team. "It includes the fragmentary remains of two plant eating dinosaurs, prosauropods, about the size of a new-born calf, which are not only the earliest dinosaurs known from the island, but probably the earliest dinosaurs known from anywhere in the world."
"This fauna also includes spectacular, close mammal relatives -- mammal-like reptiles," said Wyss. "These are the first fossils of their kind known from Madagascar. Their preservation is superb, rivaling that of anything in the world."
This discovery is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Wyss. "A wealth of bones is pouring out of our quarries," he said. "Once these get cleaned up, we have no doubt that we'll know a great deal more about all of these animals, plus many others. There should be meat-eating dinosaurs present, as well as a host of other novel animals."
To establish the relative ages, scientists must look to what other kinds of fossils are found in association with the dinosaurs. "The Malagasy finding is unique in containing various kinds of animals -- such as certain non-dinosaurian reptiles and mammal relatives -- found elsewhere only in more ancient deposits, and thus lacking dinosaurs," said Wyss.
"Also, the Malagasy fauna lacks other, presumably younger, forms usually
found alongside the earliest dinosaurs," he said. "
Contact: Gail Brown
University of California - Santa Barbara