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Researchers find earliest relative of Brachiosaurus dinosaur

IANS | London |

A giant dinosaur species that lived around 160 million years ago could be the earliest relative of Brachiosaurus, depicted in the film Jurassic Park, according to new research.

Researchers from Imperial College London and their colleagues in Europe discovered the new species, named Vouivria damparisensis, after re-examining an overlooked museum fossil.

When the fossil was first discovered in France in the 1930s, its species was not identified, and until now it has largely been ignored in scientific literature.

In their study, published in the journal PeerJ, researchers suggest the age of Vouivria to be around 160 million years old, making it the earliest known fossil from the titanosauriform family of dinosaurs, which includes better-known dinosaurs such as the Brachiosaurus. 

The new analysis of the fossil indicates that Vouivria died at an early age, weighed around 15,000 kg and was over 15 metres long.

It had a long neck held at around a 45 degree angle, a long tail, and four legs of equal length. It would have been a plant eater, according to the study. 

"Vouivria would have been a herbivore, eating all kinds of vegetation, such as ferns and conifers. This creature lived in the Late Jurassic, around 160 million years ago, at a time when Europe was a series of islands," said the lead author of the study Philip Mannion from Imperial College London.

"We don't know what this creature died from, but millions of years later it is providing important evidence to help us understand in more detail the evolution of brachiosaurid sauropods and a much bigger group of dinosaurs that they belonged to, called titanosauriforms," Mannion said.

Titanosauriforms were a diverse group of sauropod dinosaurs and some of the largest creatures to have ever lived on land. 

They lived from at least the Late Jurassic, right to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, when an asteroid wiped out most life on Earth.

A lack of fossil records means that it has been difficult for scientists to understand the early evolution of titanosauriforms and how they spread out across the planet. 

The re-classification of Vouivria as an early titanosauriform will help scientists to understand the spread of these creatures during the Early Cretaceous period, a later period of time, after the Jurassic, around 145-100 million years ago.