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Published January 13, 2011

Scientists have discovered a new dinosaur species at the foot of South America's Andes mountains. The long-necked Eodromaeus, or "dawn runner," searched for prey as the age of dinosaurs began, approximately 230 million years ago.

© 2011 National Geographic; Photos, video and illustration courtesy of University of Chicago

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Researchers have uncovered a new, pint-sized dinosaur that may give paleontologists a better idea of how dinosaurs evolved from their earliest days.

The long-necked Eodromaeus, the “dawn runner,” was about 4 feet long, and weighed only 10 to 15 pounds. It was a carnivore, and a fast runner.

Two individual skeletons were found side-by-side in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Argentina, in an area known as the “Valley of the Moon.”

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Paul Sereno says this discovery gives scientists the ‘earliest look’ at the development of the dinosaurs.

SOUNDBITE: Paul Sereno, Paleontologist, University of Chicago:“It was a bi-pedal, two-legged predator. It chased down its prey, grabbed onto it with nice, grasping hands, and munched on it with re-curved teeth for slicing flesh. It is the best view we have of where the predatory lineage comes from- where ultimately the descendants like Tyrannosaurus Rex where they began.”

Radioisotopes place the age of the new species’ skeletons at about 230 million years old.

Sereno and the report’s lead author, Ricardo Martinez of Argentina’s National University of San Juan, describe their team’s findings in the January 14th issue of the journal Science.

Martinez calls the find the “single best view we have of the birth of the dinosaurs.”

The area in which Eodromaeus was found was once a rift valley in the southwest corner of the supercontinent Pangea. Volcanoes, over time, spewed ash into the valley, and sediments covering the skeletons accumulated a thickness of more than 2000 feet.

SOUNDBITE: Paul Sereno, Paleontologist, University of Chicago: “Today, we can look at it as a mounted skeleton, we can actually put flesh on it. This is the most complete picture we have of what a predatory dinosaur lineage – what it looked like at the very beginning. It was small, but nasty. This animal was fast.”

Eodromaeus is believed to be a precursor to later meat-eaters called theropods, and eventually to birds

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