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New dinosaurs appear to be oldest yet, as reported in the 22 October issue of Science

Washington DC - The jaws of two of the oldest dinosaurs ever discovered and the remains of eight other prehistoric animals have been unearthed by a team of paleontologists working in Madagascar. The exquisitely preserved collection of fossils provides a freeze-framed picture of life during the earliest days of dinosaurs and mammals--a picture that has been largely obscured until now. The team reports its find in the 22 October issue of Science.

The fossils are from a period that has long been a puzzle for paleontologists, the Middle to Late Triassic (225 to 230 million years ago). At the opening of this period, a variety of reptiles, amphibians, and other vertebrates populated the land. By its close, early dinosaurs and mammals had appeared, but a sparse fossil record has left scientists with few clues about what happened in between.

In contrast, the newly discovered fossils provide a virtual "Who's Who" of the Middle-Late Triassic animals in Madagascar. To begin with, the research team found two new dinosaurs that appear to be older than Herrerasaurus and Eoraptor, the current record-holders for dinosaur seniority. The new dinosaurs were prosauropods, herbivores with small heads and long necks that could walk on two or four legs. These primitive dinosaurs either shared a common ancestor with, or were themselves ancestors to, the mighty sauropod dinosaurs that evolved later, such as Apatosaurus. The scientists plan to hold off on formally naming their new finds until more of the prosauropods' remains are cleaned or excavated.

The fossils were discovered by John Flynn, of the Field Museum in Chicago, J. Michael Parrish, of Northern Illinois University, Berthe Rakotosamimanana, of the Université d'Antananarivo in Madagascar, William Simpson of the Field Museum, and Robin Whatley and André Wyss, of the University of California at Santa Barbara.

"The fossils are exquisitely preserved. They show a level of deta
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Contact: Heather Singmaster
hsingmas@aaas.org
202-326-6414
American Association for the Advancement of Science
21-Oct-1999


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