Alan Charig was a dinosaur superfan long before Jurassic Park. The new species could rotate its ankle from side to side as well as flex it up and down, while the ankle joints of birds and dinosaurs could only do a hinge-like up-and-down motion. They were studied at the Natural History Museum in London in the 1950s. It had the scientific name of Teleocrater rhadinus.

“Given their position on the family tree, they give us a good idea of what the common ancestor of all bird line archosaurs was like”, said Ken Angielczyk, a paleontologist at the Field Museum in Chicago and a co-author on the study. “It basically provides information similar to what Australopithecus“, our most famous hominid ancestor, “provided to human evolution”.

The T. rhadinus fossil was first uncovered in Tanzania the 1930s, but had sat in a museum collection, with palaeontologists unaware of its significance.

“We used to think that numerous distinctive features of bird-line archosaurs evolved very quickly after they diverged from the crocodile line because early bird-line archosaurs like Marasuchus, Dromoeron, and Lagerpeton were small and very dinosaur-like”, said Ken Angielczyk, associate curator at The Field Museum in the US. But scientists know little about what came before them.

“It’s something we see commonly in vertebrate or just animal history”, Nesbitt said. Credit: Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” (Buenos Aires, Argentina), artwork by Gabriel Lio.

Researchers who found fossils in Tanzania in 2015 describe the creature in a paper released Wednesday by the journal Nature. Charig could not determine whether the creature was more closely related to crocodilians or to dinosaurs, as they lacked ankles and other bones. Teleocrater possessed an unexpected combination of crocodile-like and dinosaur-like characteristics. In terms of vegetation, this is before we have any flowering plants at all. An worldwide team of researchers have just published in Nature a description of Teleoctrater rhadinus, which represents the first step on the path from archosaurs toward dinosaurs and birds. “His work wasn’t in vain”. It lived about 245 million years ago, roughly 10 million years before dinosaurs appeared. It offered some surprises, like its ankle bone. These shared features, the authors say, suggest that it’s time to rethink what we thought we knew about dinosaurs’ earliest ancestors.

It took a new fossil discovery in Tanzania two years ago to fill in the missing piece of the fossil record. This group is a peculiar mixture of features from the last common ancestor of all birds, the crocodilians and the dinosaurs. Teleocrater was around during that time. This is a reference to the creature’s slim build, as well as closed hip socket. Some of these examples, “rather than being a dinosaur innovation, were an innovation right at the beginning of the group and pterosaurs lost it”.

Werning thought the research highlighted the importance of museums and their vast, unanalysed collections. The new specimens‚ found in 2015‚ clear up those questions. The new remains allowed scientists to finally formally confirm Charig’s theory, as well as connect the species to its rightful place on the archosaur family tree.

Barrett told the BBC that the dinosaur might have looked like a souped-up version of the Komodo dragon, crossed with something else.