More than a decade ago, a farmer in China stumbled upon some fossils that led to an excavation that led to a realization: it's time to reconsider the evolutionary history of some of the largest dinosaurs that ever populated the earth] In a study published this week in the science journal Nature Communications, paleontologists said they discovered the earliest diplodocoid and the only one found in East Asia.
Diplodocoids are part of the sauropods subgroup of these large herbivores with four legs and long necks. The fossils in China belonged to a previously undiscovered species, Lingwulong shenqi, and are about 1
"This means that in fact a large number of different sauropods must have evolved much earlier than previously thought," says Philip Mannion, paleontologist at Imperial College London and one of the authors of the study
It also means that Diplomodocoiden owns Road to East Asia before the continents – once a huge land mass called Pangea – departed from each other.
The fossils of Lingwulong shenqi, or the "amazing dragon of Lingwu" in Mandarin, were discovered near the city of Lingwu in northwestern China. It was an amazing find: at least seven dinosaurs had died near each other, giving the scientists much material to work with.
The study was led by Xu Xing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a paleontologist known for his groundbreaking discoveries.
"It has been suggested that diplodocus-like nesauropods never made it to East Asia because this region was cut off from the rest of the world by Jura Seaways, so China developed its own and distinct dinosaur fauna." Xu said in a statement from University College London, which was involved in the study.
"However, Lingwulong shows that these Diplodocus-type sauropods were present after all, implying that the isolation of East Asia was less profound than the paleontologists recognized it.
Lingwulong Shenqi was not as tall as some of its sauropods, such as the Apatosaurus or Diplodocus. His neck was shorter and seemed to be between 35 and 55 feet long from head to tail.
Sauropods grew in the late Jurassic period, but the discovery of Lingwulong shenqi in Middle Jurassic rocks suggests that sauropod species began much earlier than we thought. And this raises a new question: Did this "amazing dragon" have brothers, sisters and cousins in Asia or elsewhere who have never been seen?
"It's so exciting because it means we have much more to discover," said Mathew Wedel, paleontologist and sauropod expert, who was not part of the study. "All the missing story is out there waiting to be found, all we have to do is find these Middle Jurassic rocks, we have to look harder."
This week's study follows another study on a herbivorous, four-legged giant – the Ingentia prima, which also lived earlier than expected. And now Lingwulong shenqi has opened another new line of investigation and exploration.
"It suggests that we have large gaps," Dr. Mannion, adding that there will be many more discoveries before people can fully follow the branches of the pedigree of the sauropods.