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New Welsh dinosaur has a name

he oldest Jurassic dinosaur in the UK is formally named and described in a paper published this week

The Welsh dinosaur discovered on a beach near Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan last year now has a name - Dracoraptor hanigani.  The name Dracoraptor means ‘dragon robber’, Draco meaning dragon, the symbol of Wales. The species name honours Nick and Rob Hanigan who discovered the amazing fossil and have now generously donated it to Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum of Wales.


It is described in the paper “The oldest Jurassic dinosaur: a basal neotheropod from the Hettangian of Great Britain” by David Martill, Steven Vidovic, Cindy Howells and John Nudds in the online Journal PLoS ONE. Full article is available here


The fossil can be seen in the main hall of National Museum Cardiff. Also on display for the first time will be the dinosaur’s foot, which was discovered by Sam Davies from Bridgend, a palaeontology student at the University of Portsmouth, who has donated it to the Museum and thus the dinosaur now has one of its feet back. Sam discovered two blocks, which have been prepared to reveal the amazingly well preserved foot bones, still in their original alignment.

The original find was made by Nick and Rob Hanigan whilst fossil hunting along the Lavernock beach in the Vale of Glamorgan after storms in spring 2014.  After a cliff fall on the beach, they spotted several loose blocks containing part of the skeleton of a small dinosaur and collected the specimen, including its skull, claws and serrated teeth.

The fossilised bones were found spread across five slabs of rock and although some were preserved together in the correct position, others had been scattered and separated by the actions of scavenging fish and sea-urchins. The specimen was preserved with the fossilised remains of these sea-urchins.

Nick and Rob took time carefully preparing the specimen and then contacted Cindy Howells, palaeontology curator for Amgueddfa Cymru who, with the help of dinosaur experts from University of Portsmouth and the University of Manchester, analysed the teeth and bones. The team established that this particular dinosaur was a meat-eating dinosaur, from the theropod group. It also suggested that it was a juvenile animal as some of its bones are not yet fully formed.

This new Welsh dinosaur was a very distant cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex and lived at the very beginning of the Jurassic Period (201 million years ago) possibly making it the oldest Jurassic dinosaur in the world. It was a small, slim, agile animal, probably only about 70 cm tall and about 200 cm long, with a long tail to help it balance. It lived at the time when south Wales was a coastal region like today, but with a much warmer climate, and dinosaurs were just starting to diversify. It is related to Coelophysiswhich lived approximately 203 to 196 million years ago in what is now the southwestern part of the United States of America.

This new specimen is the first skeleton of a theropod found in Wales. Isolated teeth and bones of other dinosaurs have previously been found in south Wales near Penarth, Bridgend, and Cowbridge. Nearby at Barry is one of the earliest dinosaur footprint sites in Europe dating back to the Middle Triassic around 215 million years ago.

David Anderson, Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales said:

“We’re very grateful to Nick and Rob Hanigan who have been incredibly generous in donating this wonderful specimen to the collection of Amgueddfa Cymru, to preserve it for future generations.

“We are delighted to put this specimen back on display in the main hall. It proved to be very popular last year with the public and this time visitors will also be able to see another recent discovery which is the foot of the dinosaur. I hope people take this opportunity to find out more about this fascinating new dinosaur species which was discovered here in south Wales and dates back 200 million years”.

National Museum Cardiff’s exhibition and activity programme has been supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.

Entry to the Museum is free, thanks to the support of the Welsh Government. 

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales operates seven museums across Wales: National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans National History Museum, National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon, Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenafon, National Wool Museum, Drefach Felindre, National Slate Museum, Llanberis and the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.  

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