CHICAGO - Two fossils of a newly discovered dinosaur - an early, distant cousin of the Triceratops - have been discovered in China, according to research that will be published in Nature March, 21, 2002.
But rather than weighing ten tons and being studded with massive horns and a wide frill, like its well-known cousin, the new dinosaur weighed only about seven pounds and shows signs of only rudimentary horns and a frill. About the size of a hare, Liaoceratops yanzigouensis is the smallest, oldest and most primitive neoceratops ever found.
"This small, primitive dinosaur is actually more interesting to science in many ways than its larger, more famous relatives because it teaches us more about evolution," says Peter Makovicky, PhD, assistant curator of dinosaurs at The Field Museum and co-author of the research. "Basal [primitive] dinosaurs are critical because they help us to tie different groups of dinosaurs together and map out evolutionary patterns."
Long ago, ceratopsians branched into two lines: neoceratopsians, the main line that includes Triceratops, and psittacosaurids, parrot-beaked dinosaurs.
"Liaoceratops establishes that this split occurred no later than the earliest part of the Cretaceous Period about 130 million years ago," Dr. Makovicky says. "Also, it indicates that ceratopsians acquired some of their distinctive features earlier and more rapidly than was previously recognized.
"In addition, Liaoceratops demonstrates that the large, spectacular species that grace many museum exhibits are descended from some very small ancestors," he adds. "We see this common pattern in many different groups of dinosaurs. "
The Nature paper will describe two fossils: a juvenile specimen and a holotype - the single specimen designated by the authors as the definitive example of this new species. The adult skull is 4.4 inches long
Contact: Greg Borzo