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UK's Oldest Sauropod Dinosaur Discovered

Jun 02, 2015 11:55 AM EDT
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Meet the biggest dinosaur ever to walk the Earth

The UK's oldest sauropod dinosaur was recently discovered, oddly, when a fossil bone fell from a cliff face on the Yorkshire coast, according to a new study.

The vertebra (backbone) originates from a group of dinosaurs that includes the largest land animals to have ever walked on Earth. This new sauropod dinosaur is reportedly from the Middle Jurassic Period and dates back about 176 million years ago. It appears that, combined with past evidence of Yorkshire dinosaur tracks, this part of the country was once Britain's very own "Jurassic World."

The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, may help scientists better understand the distribution and evolution of dinosaurs on Earth.

Sauropods, which are more commonly referred to as "brontosaurs," include some of the largest plant-eating dinosaurs to exist on Earth. They roamed the planet for approximately 150 million years, using their distinctive long necks to feed on tall trees and vegetation. They are also characterized by their long tails, small heads and large bodies - some species even grew up to 115 feet (35 meters) long and weighed as much as 80 tons.

According to a team of researchers from the University of Manchester, the newly discovered fossil clearly belongs to this group of giant prehistoric animals. Though, the fossil is not entirely intact, and so its fragmented nature prevents it from being identified as a possible new species of dinosaur.

Nonetheless, it is an extremely rare find, considering the Middle Jurassic rocks of the world are only exposed in a few areas, such as China and Argentina where similar-aged dinosaur fossils originate.

"Many scientists have worked on the amazing dinosaur tracks from the Middle Jurassic rocks of Yorkshire. It was a splendid surprise to come face-to-face with a fossil vertebra from the Jurassic rocks of Yorkshire that was clearly from a sauropod dinosaur," Professor Phil Manning, who led the study, said in a statement.

"This fossil offers the earliest 'body fossil' evidence for this important group of dinosaurs in the United Kingdom, but it is impossible to define a new species based upon this single bone," he added.

The fossil, studied using X-ray tomography, is now held in the collections at the Yorkshire Museum in York (UK).

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