A new species of dinosaur has been discovered in China, one that pushes back theories about the evolution of some the largest creatures that ever walked the Earth.
The discovery was announced Tuesday in a study published in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Communications.
The 174-million-year-old fossil was found in China’s Lingwu region, and was given the name Lingwulong shenqi, which is Chinese for the “Lingwu amazing dragon.”
The new dinosaur was a neosauropod, a group of long-necked vegetarians that include brontosaurus and diplodocus. The creature was likely about 35 to 55 feet long from head to tail.
Scientists were surprised that the fossil was 15 million years older than any similar dinosaurs and were also surprised at where the dinosaur was found.
Study co-author Philip Mannion of Imperial College London told the BBC the discovery was “doubly unexpected. Not only is it the oldest member (of this group), but it’s the first ever from Asia. For a long time it was thought that neosauropods didn’t get into Asia during the Jurassic.”
Lingwulong belonged to a subgroup that previously was thought to have been absent from East Asia, because it evolved after that land mass split from the rest of Pangaea, an ancient supercontinent, according to Reuters.
The research was led by paleontologist Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who told Reuters that the discovery indicates “that eastern Asia was still connected to other continents at the time.”
National Geographic said that scientists must now consider that neosauropods achieved widespread distribution across Pangaea before it broke up.
The study concludes that the discovery “reinforces recent suggestions that the Early Jurassic was a critical phase in dinosaur evolution.”