Friday, June 14, 2024

Discovering the fossil origins of the Welsh dragon: a tropical ecosystem rich in dinosaurs

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Maria Gill
Maria Gill
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The recent discovery of fossils in Wales has revealed new details about the presence of dinosaurs and their living conditions in this region, which has long been considered devoid of these prehistoric creatures, despite the country’s coat of arms.

The red dragon appears on the national flag and is deeply rooted in Welsh mythology and identity. A team of researchers from the University of Bristol, in collaboration with the National Museum of Wales, published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the Society of GeologistsThen connect it to this powerful cultural symbol.

These discoveries provide a new perspective on the Welsh ecosystem more than 200 million years ago. It reveals, among other things, that these dinosaurs lived in the tropical lowlands and mingled with other marine reptiles. These discoveries enrich the understanding of ancient ecosystems and living conditions of dinosaurs, but above all underscore the importance of this region for the study of fossils.

Amazing dinosaur discoveries in Wales

The research at Lavernock Point, near Cardiff and Penarth, focused on cliffs composed of dark shale and limestone, the remains of ancient shallow seabeds. These geological formations revealed accumulations of bones at several levels. They include remains of fish, sharks, marine reptiles and, exceptionally, dinosaurs.

Specifically, notable finds include the fossilized remains of placodont osteoderms and coelacanth bone. These fossils provide a new perspective on the Rhetians of this region. It is one of the sections of the Upper Triassic geological period. It extends from about 208 to 201 million years BC. It represents the last stage of the Triassic period, which immediately preceded the beginning of the Jurassic period.

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Dr. Chris Duffin, supervisor of the study, Confirms The importance of these results: Coelacanth and placodont remains are relatively rare in the UK, which makes these finds even more remarkable “In addition, until a decade ago, no evidence of dinosaurs had been documented in Wales. Owen Evans, co-author, adds: “ I have been visiting the Penarth coast all my life, having grown up in Cardiff. But I never noticed the fossils. Local geologists have been collecting bones since the 1870s.

As a result, the recovered bones form one of the most important fossil collections in Wales. Cindy Howells, curator of palaeontology at the National Museum Wales, points out: “ The presence of dinosaur fossils at this site ensures that it remains one of the most important places for paleontology in Wales “These historical collections, combined with new discoveries, will provide a better understanding of dinosaur evolution in this previously underappreciated region.”

Living conditions of the first dinosaurs

Recent research has revealed that Welsh dinosaurs lived in the tropical lowlands near the sea more than 200 million years ago. These areas are characterized by a hot and humid climate. Very favorable for the development of lush and diverse plants. Dinosaur tracks discovered at Bari and other nearby sites show that these creatures roamed the floodplains.

They were crossed by rivers and interspersed with swamps. The proximity to the sea also suggests that these dinosaurs may have had access to a variety of food resources. This includes coastal plants and aquatic animals.

Photographs of the bone site at (a) Lavernock Point and (b) St Mary’s Whale Bay. The basal bone layer at Lavernock is about 5 cm thick, while the upper layer at St Mary’s Well Bay is about 1.5 cm thick. © or. Evans et al., 2024

Owen Evans describes this landscape as a tropical archipelago frequently exposed to storms. These storms played a crucial role in transporting layers of bone, washing material and organic remains from the surrounding land into the intertidal zones. This dynamic created sedimentary deposits rich in fossils. It now allows researchers to reconstruct a complex ecosystem. Dinosaurs coexisted with many marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and placodonts, in nearby waters. These special living conditions have therefore contributed to the diversity and adaptation of the species found in this region.

An artistic representation of a British archipelago during the Triassic. © Gabriel Oguito

Species diversity and importance

That is why the central aspect of the study relies on the analysis of thousands of microfossils discovered at the Lavernock Point site. They include a variety of fish teeth, scales and bone fragments. They provide valuable clues about the composition of the marine and terrestrial ecosystem at that time. The researchers were able to identify the main species found in these shallow waters. They then painted a detailed picture of the biodiversity that characterizes these ancient coastal environments. Professor Michael Benton, from Bristol School of Geosciences, says: The scale of dinosaur remains found at Lavernock is very exciting and provides an opportunity to study a complex and often mysterious period in its evolutionary history “.

View of the Lavernock Point escarpment from the eastern end of the beach, showing the red mudstones of the Williton Member (Mercia Mudstone Formation) transitioning upward into the interbedded rocks of the Westbury Formation. © or. Evans et al., 2024

Among the most important discoveries, researchers identified the remains of a large animal resembling a flat dinosaur. It is a huge herbivore. They also discovered fearsome carnivores with multiple bones attributed to predatory theropods. This diversity of species confirms a rich and diverse environment.

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The coexistence of these different groups indicates a complex food chain and a dynamic interaction between marine and terrestrial species. These findings provide a new perspective on the ecology of dinosaurs and marine reptiles during the Late Triassic, enriching our understanding of the diversity and evolution of prehistoric ecosystems. The authors mischievously conclude that the origins of Welsh dragons have finally been identified.

Source: Owen Evans et al., “Microvertebrates from the Raetian (Late Triassic) bone bed at Lavernock, South Wales“, Proceedings of the Society of Geologists (2024)

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