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Last updated at 15:38 BST, Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Oldest dinosaur footprints found

Summary

8 October 2010

Scientists have found dinosaur-like footprints in a 250-million-year-old rock, suggesting that first dinosaur-like creatures emerged up to nine million years earlier than previously thought.

Reporter
Pallab Ghosh

Prorotodactylus

Image by Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki

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These earliest dinosaur-like animals were about the size of domestic cats. They would have weighed two or three pounds (1 to 1.5 kilos) and walked on four legs.

But what's really intrigued scientists is that they date from two million years after the worst mass extinction event in the history of the planet.

It was a time when volcanic eruptions, sudden global warming and a stagnation of the oceans wiped out more than 90% of all life on Earth.

Up until recently scientists thought that dinosaurs emerged 15 to 20 million years after this event. But the new footprints suggest that they arose directly as a result of the devastation, filling a gaping ecological void. Without the mass extinctions there would have been no dinosaurs.

Pallab Ghosh, BBC News, London

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Vocabulary

dinosaur

large reptile that lived around 200 million years ago

mass extinction

large number of deaths in a relatively short period of time

volcanic eruptions

explosions of ash, fire and liquid rock coming out of the earth

global warming

increased average temperatures across the world

stagnation

inactivity

wiped out

completely destroyed

devastation

destruction

gaping

very wide

ecological

connected with plants, animals and the environment

void

area of empty space

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