The forefather of the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex has been
discovered, scientists report.
The 160 million year-old fossil is the oldest tyrannosaur ever
The researchers were surprised to learn the three metre long dinosaur
sported a spectacular crest on its head which may have been brightly
The discovery, unveiled in the journal Nature, might reveal how
early tyrannosaurs evolved into the T rex 100 million years later.
The new species was found in the Junggar Basin, an area rich in
dinosaur fossils, in the far north-west corner of China.
A local labourer, hired to search for ancient bones, happened
upon two dinosaur skeletons: a twelve year-old adult and a six-year-old
juvenile. Both were found to be remarkably intact.
The international team have named the dinosaur, which hails from
the Late Jurassic Period, Guanlong wucaii (G wucaii) which is
derived from the Chinese for "crowned dragon".
Professor James Clark, an author on the paper and a
palaeontologist at George Washington University, US, described the discovery.
"We found two skeletons of what we call a therapod dinosaur.
When we looked at them very closely we found that they are a
relative of Tyrannosaurus rex - making them the most primitive
tyrannosaur relatives that we have seen," he explained.
Tyrannosaurs were the dominant group of predators during the
Late Cretaceous Period. This era, about 65 to 100 million years ago,
marked the final chapter before dinosaurs became extinct.
It was during this time T rex roamed. The most famed member
of the tyrannosaur family; its immense size of nine to thirteen
metres, huge teeth and
tiny but savagely clawed forearms have made it the beast of choice
for many Hollywood films.
Professor Clark described how the G wucaii would have looked:
"The most obvious thing was that it had a big crest in the middle of
its head. For carnivorous dinosaurs that's pretty unusual.
"We suspect that the crest was highly coloured and probably a
display structure of some kind."
He said that it shared some features with the later
tyrannosaurs, such as the T rex. It had sharp teeth, similar muscle
scars on its hips and probably ran on two legs.