Questions Raised over Ancient German Dinosaurs

A palaeontological storm is brewing in Germany over controversial body and trace fossils that if interpreted as dinosaur remains would have huge significance in terms of the origin of these creatures, the German dinosaur discovery has certainly attracted huge interest.  A number of fossilised bones and an ancient set of footprints unearthed in a quarry near Bernberg, a small town in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, if confirmed as belonging to dinosaurs would put back the evolution of dinosaurs by 10 million years or more.

An article was written on the discoveries in August, to read this article: New Clues to Origins of Dinosaurs Unearthed.

German Dinosaur Discovery

The discoverer of these impressions and a leading advocate for these fossils coming from dinosaurs is German scientist Cajus Diedrich.  He believes he has found evidence of the world’s oldest dinosaur and from the footprint evidence it was a sizable beast.

The rear footprint has been measured at over 35 cm long and according to German newspaper reports these dimensions indicate a large reptile, possibly a prosauropod, one that would have weighed between 600 and 800 kilogrammes.  The footprints have been dated to approximately 243 million years ago (Nammailian faunal stage).  This is believed to be over 10 million years earlier than other dinosaur fossils that have been found.

The First Dinosaurs

The puzzle for scientists is that there are very few dinosaur-like fossils from this time to work with.  If a palaeontologist is asked the question What were the first dinosaurs? At the moment, given the level of data, scientists are unsure.  By studying the earliest remains found to date, palaeontologists have speculated that first dinosaurs were primitive, small, bipedal meat-eaters.  Most of these fossils have been found in South America, but that does not mean that dinosaurs existed elsewhere.  However, the earliest date agreed by most scientists for dinosaurs in the fossil record is around 230 million years ago (Carnian faunal stage).

It is for these reasons that the reports from Germany and Herr Diedrich’s claims have been treated with caution.  It is all very well to claim that these new finds are the “missing link” between the slow reptiles of the Palaeozoic and the later more agile dinosaurs but there are a number of doubters quick to criticise this hypothesis.

Hartmut Haubold, a palaeontologist from Halle, declared the conclusions made by Cajus Diedrich as “ridiculous”.  He added, “It’s as if someone found a 10-million-year-old stone and claimed it was hand axe made by humans”.  Dinosaurs did not come into existence until a good 15 million years later than Diedrich claims.

Chirotherium or Cheirotherium

Haubold believes the tracks in question, were most likely left by a Chirotherium, an ancestral reptile long known to scientists and possibly related to the dinosaurs’ predecessors.  Chirotherium is no stranger to controversy either, this animal, sometimes referred to as Cheirotherium, is not known from any fossilised bones but a number of trackways ascribed to this beast have been discovered.  The name means “beast or mammal hand” as the footprints look as if they had been made by a mammal.  The first digit is separated from the other digits like the thumb on a human hand-print.  This “thumb” was actually the fifth digit and its spacing is a characteristic of early archosaur prints.

A Chirotheriuim trackway.

Chirotherium tracks on display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

To read an article on this animal: Chirotherium – Tracks in the Mud.

Prehistoric animal models: Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal Models.

Strange fossil trackways are not confined to Germany, even in sleepy Cheshire ancient footprints have been found – see article: Dinosaurs at Lymm (Cheshire).

The prosauropods are a group of sauropodomorphs, animals that were large herbivorous dinosaurs from the Triassic and the Early Jurassic.  One of the best known prosauropod, indeed one of the best known of all dinosaurs is Plateosaurus.  This was one of the most common of the European Triassic dinosaurs.  Fossils have been found all over Europe, including Germany but most fossils have been dated to the Late Triassic.

A Plateosaurus dinosaur model.

A rearing Plateosaurus.