THE FIRST DINOSAURS COULD HAVE COME FROM BRITAIN
Revolutionary new research may mean we have to redraw the dinosaurs’ family tree
From green countryside to a nice bag of fish ’n’ chips, the British have plenty to be proud of. Now, there’s another thing to smile about: dinosaurs may have originated in what is now Britain. A team at the University of Cambridge has uncovered evidence that the prehistoric beasts could have evolved from a common ancestor – the Saltopus, which is a small Scottish specimen previously considered to be insignificant.
The somewhat controversial finding stems from the researchers’ conclusion that the basic categories used to classify dinosaur species need to be reassessed. The previous incarnation of the dinosaur family tree was drawn up by British Palaeontologist Harry Govier Seeley back in the
late 19th Century. He initially split dinosaur species into two main groups based on the structure of their hipbones: the lizard-like pattern of the Saurischia, and the bird-like pattern of the Ornithischia. As more dinosaurs were described, Seeley split the Saurischia into two subgroups: the sauropodomorphs, which included Diplodocus, and the theropods, which included the T. rex.
In the new analysis, the Cambridge team says ornithischians and theropods belong in the same group (called Ornithoscelida) and the sauropodomorphs in another.
“When we started our analysis, we puzzled as to why some ancient ornithischians appeared anatomically similar to theropods. Our fresh study suggested that these two groups were indeed part of the same clade. This conclusion came as quite a shock since it ran counter to everything we’d learned,” said lead researcher Matthew Baron.
If correct, the study would make the Saltopus a candidate for the common ancestor of Ornithischia and Saurischia, perhaps meaning that dinosaurs first walked the Earth in what is now Scotland.
ABOVE: Kulindadromeus is one dinosaur that will have to be reclassified, according to the new information