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Early "Roadrunner" Dinosaur Discovered


A new, primitive dinosaur species has been discovered by University of Cambridge palaeontologist Dr David Norman during an expedition in South Africa.

Eocursor image showing skeletal fossils
Copyright Scott Hartman / Courtesy University of Cambridge

The Eocursor Parvus (meaning "little early runner") was a plant eating dinosaur less than one metre in length, lightly built and capable of running quickly on its hind legs.

At 200 million years old, this creature was one of the earliest representatives of the Ornithischia (one of the two major groups of dinosaurs) and a prototype from which evolved the much grander and better-known herbivorous Iguanodon, Triceratops and Stegosaurus.

The discovery will now provide scientists with an important insight into the origin and early evolution of these mighty creatures that dominated the Earth for 150 million years.

Dr David Norman, also Director of the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Science, Cambridge, commented, "It is delightful to be involved in such important discovery. This fortunate find just shows how unforeseen fossil discovery can be, as I was actually looking for a rather different type of early dinosaur at the time.

"Despite impressions created on TV and film, new dinosaurs are rare discoveries. This one is even more so as it dates from around the time of their evolutionary origin."

The discovery of the partial dinosaur skeleton was originally made on an expedition led by Dr Norman to the Karoo Basin in the Free State area of South Africa.

The specimen was collected and partly prepared in the laboratories of the Iziko South African Museum, Cape Town before being shipped to the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences for further preparation.

When the remains were exposed and examined, skull fragments and bones from the animal's backbone, pelvis and legs were identified, confirming that the Eocursor was a new species.

The specimen was studied by a team including Dr Richard Butler from the Natural History Museum, a PhD student supervised by Dr Norman, and Dr Roger Smith from the South African Museum.

The Sedgwick Museum has more than one million fossils in its collection; these range from the earliest forms of life, to the remarkable wildlife that roamed the Fens less than one hundred and fifty thousand years ago.

Displays include a gallery of minerals and gemstones, the world's largest spider, fossil plants, huge marine reptiles from the Jurassic Period, dinosaurs and Cambridgeshire's very own Hippopotamus.

Source: University of Cambridge

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