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Fred Flintstone may not have been real but his pet Dino WAS - boffins

'Labrador sized' oldest 'saur ever discovered

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Scientists believe they have found the world's oldest dinosaur after fully analysing a fossil unearthed 80 years ago.

The ten-foot-long dorky-looking Nyasasaurus parringtoni scuttled over the Earth 10 to 15 million years earlier than the previously oldest known dinosaurs, palaeontologists claimed in an article published in the journal Biology Letters.

Analysis of the 243-million-year-old fossil also reveals interesting facts about what makes a dinosaur.

Artist's impression of the "dog" sized Nyasasaurus parringtoni (Credit: Natural History Museum/Mark Witton)

After analysing the seven bones that remain of the dinosaur - one upper arm bone and six vertebrae - the boffins hypothesised that the dino walked upright, was approximately 3ft high at the hip, and had a body the same size as a labrador.

The bones confirmed existing theories about the nature of dinosaurs: for instance, the bone tissue, woven haphazardly rather than laid down in an organised way, suggests rapid growth, a key characteristic among dinosaurs.

"We can tell from the bone tissues that Nyasasaurus had a lot of bone cells and blood vessels," said Sarah Werning of the University of California, Berkeley, who co-wrote the article and carried out the bone analysis. "In living animals, we only see this many bone cells and blood vessels in animals that grow quickly, like some mammals or birds."

The find also suggests that dinosaurs were not the dominant vertebrate group during their early evolution. And it helps explain how they diversified from archosaurs - the predominant land animals in the Mid Triassic period that included dinosaurs and the ancestors of today's crocodiles.

Little Nyasasaurus was found near present-day Lake Nyasa in Tanzania in the 1930s by Francis Rex Parrington of Cambridge University. It is named after him and the lake.

The oldest dinosaur? A Middle Triassic dinosauriform from Tanzania was published online today in Biology Letters, a journal of the UK's Royal Society. ®

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