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Oldest Jurassic dinosaur in Britain unearthed in Wales

"This animal was small, slim and agile," said paleontologist Dave Martill.
By Brooks Hays   |   Jan. 20, 2016 at 4:11 PM

PORTSMOUTH, England, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- The remains of Britain's oldest known Jurassic dinosaur have been unearthed in Wales. Scientists named the new species Dracoraptor hanigani, literally "dragon robber."

The 200-year-old bones were first found in 2014, discovered beneath a cliff on a beach in Wales by a pair of fossil-hunting brothers, Rob and Nick Hanigan. The Hanigans relayed their discovery to paleontologists in England.

A year later, a paleontology student from the University of Portsmouth found foot bones at the same site. Excavations began in earnest, with paleontologists from Portsmouth, the University of Manchester and the National Museum of Wales leading the way. Skull, claws, teeth and foot bones were successfully removed from the site.

The results of the excavation are described in a new paper, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

The dinosaur is believed to belong to a group of meat-eating theropods, an early relative of Tyrannosaurus rex.

The generic name of the dinosaur, Dracoraptor, was chosen by the two Hanigans. The first portion is a reference to the Welsh symbol of the dragon, found on the nation's flag. "Raptor" is a reference to the dino's likely disposition and feeding strategy.

"Dracoraptor was a meat-eating dinosaur that would have used its small needle-sharp teeth with steak-knife serrations to pinch bits of meat here and there, hence the part of its name meaning thief," study author Dave Martill, a paleontologist at Portsmouth, said in a press release. "Although the Hanigan brothers chose the generic name we also wanted to credit them, which is why the full name of the species is in fact Dracoraptor hanigani."

Researchers aren't sure how large an adult Dracoraptor would have been. The newly discovered dinosaur was a juvenile, and being the only theropod skeleton ever discovered in Wales there's not much in the way of reference points.

"This animal was small, slim and agile -- probably only around 70 cm tall and 200 cm long -- the size of a leopard or a cheetah maybe," Martill said. "It also had a long tail to help it balance."

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