Scientists have discovered a new dinosaur in one of the spots where such a find was considered highly unlikely—northern China. Not only were dinosaurs thought to have never existed in this part of the world, but this specimen of long-necked, gigantic herbivore dates back 15 million years before others like it were thought to exist.
The discovery was made in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and dates back to around 174 million years ago. The Chinese and British scientists who made the discovery claim in their paper that they’ve found “the earliest neosauropod,” a family of dinosaurs that include famed giants like the Brontosaurus and Diplodocus.
Neosauropods are a subgroup of sauropods—all members of these groups had traits like thick, column-like legs, lengthy necks, small heads, and grew to massive sizes. The newly discovered neosauropod, named Lingwulong shenqi or “amazing dragon from Lingwu,” reminds the scientists specifically of a Diplodocus.
“We were surprised to find a close relative of Diplodocus in East Asia 174 million years ago. It’s commonly thought that sauropods did not disperse there until 200 million years ago and many of their giant descendants, reached this region much later, if at all,” says Paul Upchurch, a co-author and professor from University College London, in a press statement.
The team has been working at the site in Ningxia since 2005, with 7 to 10 partial skeletons from four dig sites to show for their effort. Together, they show Lingwulong shenqi roaming around the area before one of the Earth’s major geologic events, the breaking up of the supercontinent Pangea.
“Our discovery of Lingwulong demonstrates that several different types of advanced sauropods must have existed at least 15 million years earlier and spread across the world while the supercontinent Pangaea was still a coherent landmass. This forces a complete re-evaluation of the origins and evolution of these animals,” Upchurch says.
As the newly crowned oldest neosauropod, Lingwulong could offers hints into dinosaur evolution. Dinosaurs are notorious for their inability to adapt to the comet which reshaped the planet, but Lingwulong suggests that they had reached advanced stages of evolution earlier than previously thought. The discovery could also rewrite the geologic history of China.
“Diplodocus-like neosauropods were thought to have never made it to East Asia because this region was cut-off from the rest of the world by Jurassic seaways, so that China evolved its own distinctive and separate dinosaur fauna. However, Lingwulong shows that these Diplodocus-like sauropods were present after all, and implies that the isolation of East Asia was less profound and short-lived than we realized,” says Dr. Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, lead author of the paper.
It’s been less than a week since scientists in Utah announced the discovery of another new species, a spiky-headed dinosaur that was essentially a tank and, like Lingwulong shenqi, the first of its kind discovered in the area. For creatures that died out hundreds of millions of years ago, there’s still a shocking amount humanity doesn’t understand about dinosaurs. That’s why some people still want to clone them.
Previously published by: Popular Mechanics USA