A new body of discoveries may challenge more than 100 years of knowledge and even change the dinosaur family tree as we know it. The conception of dinosaur evolution has been unquestioned for a long time, and thanks to a new specimen found in Scotland, there could be a different evolution path.

The academic field has largely accepted that the origin of the dinosaur species started in the southern hemisphere. However, a new study published in the journal Nature states that the root of the species might be set in the northern hemisphere, forcing the rewriting of the dinosaur tree and even a new understanding on how these animals evolved in their era.

Tyrannosaurus Rex
A reconstruction of the Tyrannosaurus Rex specimen at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Image credit: Wikimedia.

The study portrays a hypothesis that wants to prove that dinosaurs might be older (much older) than what the scientific community has thought in the past. Also, the theory could demonstrate that paleontologists might have misclassified iconic dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus rex and the Velociraptor and that the first species could have as origin the United Kingdom.

The team of investigators led by Matthew Baron, a paleontology doctorate student at the University of Cambridge, is not the only who has challenged the long lasting belief of the origin of dinosaurs. Many scientists have stated in the past that this species could have been originated in places like South America. However, the study in question assures that the real root of these specimens is Scotland.

How are these allegations sustained scientifically?

When it comes to studying dinosaurs and their respective evolution process, genetic analysis is not an accurate or even possible method. Many of the recovered specimens do not possess DNA evidence as it has been erased over time. As a consequence, scientists are forced to base their studies in physical comparisons (like the shape of the bones) between the found fossils.

In the investigation area regarding the analysis of the dinosaur evolution, it is common for scientists to observe the physical differences relating to the shape of every specimen’s hip. In this issue, they historically have divided dinosaurs into two groups: those whose hips are bird-like and those whose hips are lizard-like.

Triceratops, Dinosaurs
A reconstruction of a Triceratops Sauropsid Dinosaur. Image credit: The Fossil Museum.

The bird-like hipped dinosaurs (Ornitchiahis) are known for being mainly plant eaters such as the Stegosaurus and the Triceratops. The second group, the reptile-hipped (Saurischia), are known for having all types of diets, from the vegetarian Broncosaurus to the carnivorous Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The new study suggests that there is a group of meat eaters that seems to be out of place. This conclusion is only possible thanks to recent discoveries of more than 70 new types of specimens, which were not available for study in the past century.

One of the arguments used by the investigation team is that the Ornithischia family has always risen many questions due to its unusual characteristics. Baron says that some of the specimens from this family have hips “enigmatically organized,” and because of all the findings since the 1980’s, paleontologists should rethink how are they categorizing the species.

“In this dinosaur family-grouping game, the joker in the pack has always been Ornithischia,” Baron wrote to Los Angeles Times. “From their earliest appearance, they have been weird. They have a strange additional chin bone, their incisor teeth are smaller than those of other dinosaurs, their cheek teeth are regular and closely spaced like molars… and have beaks.”

The first dinosaurs were older and British? 

If the reorganization of each family tree finally takes place, there would be a whole new body of changes needed to the known conclusions regarding dinosaurs, their evolution, and origin. Formerly, these dinosaurs were an irrefutably peripherical species. Now, thanks to the new findings, this conclusion becomes a discussion.

The new specimens were found in Scotland and are the crucial piece of information to challenge the prior knowledge. According to the study, these findings suggest that dinosaurs did not evolve first in Eastern Africa 230 million years ago, but actually in the United Kingdom 245 million years ago.

Dinosaur Fossil Display
A Dinosaur fossil from Dinosaur Provincial Park on display at Royal Tyrrell Museum. Image credit: World Photo/ Paul Souders.

“A British scientist, Sir Richard Owen, gave the word dinosaur to the world. Now we may be looking at the possibility that the very earliest dinosaurs were roaming an area that has become Britain and the group itself could have originated on these shores,” Baron told the Christian Science Monitor on Thursday.

Detractors of this new study and theory are already criticizing many of Baron’s findings. One of them, Hans Sues of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, states that to make this kind of allegations there should be evidence that can conclusively prove it.

He said that none of the earlier studies made with the same pieces of information concluded in any similar allegations. However, he keeps an open mind and hopes more evidence is presented to the scientific and paleontologic community. The investigation team is working to provide even more evidence in the next months.

Source: Nature