Remains of the oldest-known relative of the world’s most infamous predator have been identified – 100 years after being pulled out of a Gloucestershire reservoir.
A near-complete Proceratosaurus skull in London’s Natural History Museum’s collection has been found to be a 165-million-year-old ancestor of Hollywood’s favourite prehistoric killing machine, Tyrannosaurus rex, according to research published today in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. The fossil provides crucial clues to the early stages of the lengthy evolutionary history of these fearsome predators.
A team of British and German researchers, including two palaeontologists from London’s Natural History Museum, used computed tomography (CT) techniques to generate a 3D image of the delicate skull remains to study its internal structure in minute detail.
Dinosaur researcher Dr Angela Milner commented, ‘It was quite a surprise when our analysis showed we had the oldest known relative of T. rex. We care for over nine million fossils here at the Museum and this discovery highlights the importance of museum collections in current and future research. Fossils collected a century ago can now be studied again with the benefit of much greater knowledge of dinosaurs from around the world.’
Originally described in 1910 as a new species of Megalosaurus, the fossil was presented to the Museum in 1942. But its links to the most famous dinosaur family of all remained undiscovered until now. The 30 centimetre long skull, which was uncovered during excavations for a reservoir close to Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire, has long attracted attention because of its superb preservation, but it had not been studied in detail.
Dr Oliver Rauhut from the Bavarian State Collection for Palaeontology and Geology in Munich said, ‘This is still one of the best-preserved dinosaur skulls found in Europe. It is really surprising that it has received so little attention since its original description.’
Despite its good condition, Scott More-Fay, a palaeontologist from the Natural History Museum explained that some of the bones were still covered with rock and had to be carefully cleaned before the skull could be fully examined. ‘This is a very fragile skull, so removing the rock, especially from around the teeth, was a delicate and time-consuming task that had to be done under a microscope, using very fine tools.’
Dr Oliver Rauhut is excited about the possibilities that techniques such as CT modelling present for discovering and identifying new species. ‘I’m sure that many more tyrannosaurs are still out there to be found. I think we have just scratched the tip of the iceberg so far.’