Scientists have discovered a new species of giant dinosaurs in France that has been identified as the earliest relative of Brachiosaurs. The discovery was made after the scientists at Imperial College London in the UK re-examined a fossil kept at a museum.
The fossil named Vouivria damparisensis was overlooked for more than 80 years and is a brachiosaurid sauropod dinosaur. The researchers said that the Vouivria is around 160-million-year old. This makes it the earliest known fossil belonging to the titanosauriform family of dinosaurs. The family comprises well-known dinosaurs such as the Brachiosaurus.
The fossil was first discovered in 1930s in France. However, then its species was not identified and it has been largely ignored in scientific literature.
According to the new analysis of the fossil, the Vouivria died at an early age. It weighed around 15,000 kgs and was more than 15 metres long. This makes it roughly 1.5 times the size of a double-decker bus.
The long-necked dinosaur had a long tail and four legs of equal length. Its long neck held around a 45 degree angle. It is thought to be a plant eater.
“Vouivria would have been a herbivore, eating all kinds of vegetation, such as ferns and conifers,” Philip Mannion, lead author of the study from Imperial College London, said.
“This creature lived in the Late Jurassic, around 160 million years ago, at a time when Europe was a series of islands.
“We don’t know what this creature died from, but millions of years later it is providing important evidence to help us understand in more detail the evolution of brachiosaurid sauropods and a much bigger group of dinosaurs that they belonged to, called titanosauriforms,” said Mannion.
A diverse group of sauropod dinosaurs, Titanosauriforms were some of the largest creatures to have ever lived on land.
They lived from at least the Late Jurassic, right to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, when an asteroid wiped out most life on Earth.
A lack of fossil records means that it has been difficult for scientists to understand the early evolution of titanosauriforms and how they spread out across the planet.
The re-classification of Vouivria as an early titanosauriform will help scientists understand the spread of these creatures during the Early Cretaceous period, a later period of time, around 145-100 million years ago.
The team’s incorporation of Vouivria into a revised analysis of sauropod evolutionary relationships shows that by the Early Cretaceous period, brachiosaurids were restricted to what is now Africa and the US, and were probably extinct in Europe.
Previously, scientists had suggested the presence of another brachiosaurid sauropod dinosaur called Padillasaurus much further afield in what is now South America, in the Early Cretaceous.
However, the team’s incorporation of Vouivria into the fossil timeline suggests that Padillasaurus was not a brachiosaurid, and that this group did not spread as far as South America.
The Vouivria fossil was originally discovered by palaeontologists in the village of Damparis, in the Jura Department of eastern France, in 1934. Ever since, it has been stored in the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris.