Oldest tyrannosaur found, according to reports in Nature, vol. 439, pp 665 and 715 and news@nature, 9 February 2006. Xu Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Paleoanthropology, China, and colleagues have found two skeletons of a 3 metre dinosaur, similar to a tyrannosaurus in rocks dated as 160 million years old – twice as old as T. rex. This makes it the oldest of the tyrannosauroid dinosaurs. At 3 metres long the animal was much smaller than T. rex but, according to news@nature, “its gaping, beak-like face armed with teeth, and its powerful legs, show that it too would have been a ferocious killer.”
The most surprising feature of the creature is that its nose has “large, fragile and highly pneumatic (air filled) cranial crest that is among the most elaborate known in any non-avian dinosaur”. The researchers suggest this was some kind of display structure for species identification or sexual signalling, like the crests found in some birds. One Nature article was illustrated with an artist’s impression of the creature’s head and neck showing it covered with coarse filaments like feather down, rather than reptilian scales. The BBC article was accompanied by an illustration of the whole animal. Their creature was covered with downy filaments and had longer coarser filaments hanging from its upper limbs. The dinosaur has been named Guanlong wucaii which means “crested dragon from the five colours”. The “five colours” refers to the colourful rocks in the region where the fossil was found.
Editorial Comment: The creature’s name is interesting – it reminds us the Chinese know a dragon when they see one. The mixture of facts and evolutionary assumptions in these reports is also fascinating. The bones, including the crest are facts. The claims that this dinosaur was a savage killer, that it was covered with downy filaments, and its classification as a “non-avian” dinosaur (meaning a dinosaur that is not a bird) are ideas imposed on the facts. Powerful legs and sharp teeth do not make an animal a savage killer. You have to observe its behaviour to know that. However, the evidence suggests it didn’t get into too many fights as the large, fragile air filled crest would have been easily damaged. The filamentous covering and the term “non-avian” are part of a determined effort to fix the belief in people’s minds that dinosaurs evolved into birds. This is not science – it is brainwashing. (Ref. reptiles, tyrannosaurs, dragons)