Scottish origins

Shakeup of dinosaur family tree points to unexpected Scottish origins

Scientists are to propose an unlikely origin for the prehistoric beasts: an obscure cat-sized creature found in Scotland.

The analysis, which has already sparked controversy in the academic world, suggests that the two basic groups into which dinosaurs have been classified for more than a century need a fundamental rethink. If proved correct, the revised version of the family tree would overthrow some of the most basic assumptions about this chapter of evolutionary history, including what the common ancestor of all dinosaurs looked like and where it came from.

Until now, many scientists have backed the view that the first dinosaurs emerged around 237 million years ago on the ancient continent known as Gondwana, that would later become the Southern hemisphere, based on a host of immaculately preserved fossils from South America and Tanzania.

However, the latest analysis identifies a Scottish specimen, called the Saltopus, as the closest thing in the fossil record to what the hypothetical common ancestor might look like.

Matt Baron, the graduate student who led the three-year project at the University of Cambridge, said that while it would never be possible to pinpoint the origin of dinosaurs with certainty his findings placed the Northern hemisphere into contention. “It may just be that dinosaurs originated in Scotland,” he said.

“This is obviously going to be met with some hostility from Southern American researchers,” he added.

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