Giant dinosaur bones get archaeologists rethinking Triassic period

The Balde de Leyes site was first discovered in 2001 and started unearthing bone fragments in 2014

However, the earliest examples of this group were small, bipedal creatures.

"Although the origin of gigantism in sauropodomorphs [sauropods] was a pivotal stage in the history of dinosaurs, an incomplete fossil record obscures details of this crucial evolutionary change", the authors wrote in the study. "That's the surprise", said Cecilia Apaldetti, a government and San Juan University researcher.

With this discovery, researchers are now rethinking the evolution of dinosaurs, as they previously believed giant dinosaurs didn't exist until 25 million years later.

Introducing, Ingentia prima, a large, four-legged, long-necked dinosaur that lived a whopping 47 million years before giants such as Diplodocus and Brontosaurus shook the Earth.

Cyclic growth was common among dinosaurs of that era, but no other known species exceeded more than three metres in length and 1.8 tonnes in weight.

Dr Apaldetti said the climate would have been warm, with periodic monsoons. producing an African savanna style landscape, with plenty of shrubs on which Ingentia prima would feed. The species "exhibits a growth strategy that was unknown until now and indicates that gigantism originated much earlier than was thought", Apaldetti said.

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I. prima was also found alongside three specimens of an already known species called Lessemsaurus sauropoides. However, the newly discovered fossils show that, in fact, there is more than one way for gigantism to emerge in dinosaurs.

Like their notorious descendants, they also had elongated necks and tails.

What's more, I. prima had a bird-like cervical air sac and a neck with a high surface-to-volume ratio - characteristics that functioned like a built-in air conditioning system, allowing this oversized animal to stay cool.

'In addition, this kind of breathing implied the presence of cavities, or deep holes, in their bones - known as a pneumatic skeleton - that lightened the weight and would have favoured a large body size'.

These creatures, unlike the sauropods that would come later, stood on bent legs, and featured bones that thickened through accelerated bursts, rather than steady, but still rapid, growth. At the end of the Triassic period it was a type of savannah.

'Sauropods evolved from these smaller forms and became the largest land animals that ever lived on Earth'.

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