ROME (AP) â€” Italian paleontogists said Thursday they have identified a new species of dinosaur, which lived 200 million years ago and is one of the oldest meat-eating reptiles ever discovered.
According to fossil fragments found in a quarry in northern Italy, the dinosaur was 26.4 feet long, had a long neck and weighed over a ton, Giorgio Teruzzi, supervisor of paleontology at Milan's Museum of Natural History, told The Associated Press. Each of its sharp teeth measured 2.8 inches, he said.
It is believed to have lived in the early Jurassic era, usually associated with more primitive forms of carnivorous dinosaurs. The Jurassic era lasted from 208 to 140 million years ago.
``It is the world's oldest three-fingered dinosaur, and one of the oldest overall,'' one of the researchers, Cristiano Dal Sasso, said in an interview.
The dinosaur, tentatively called Saltriosaur after the name of the quarry where the fossils were found, is very similar to another predator, the American Allosaur, but is believed to be 20 million years older.
``What's interesting about this dinosaur is that it is more specialized, it is closely related to the more advanced species,'' said Thomas R. Holtz, a paleontologist at the Department of Geology at the University of Maryland at College Park.
The fossils were found entombed in a limestone block in a quarry in Saltrio, north of Milan near the Swiss border, in 1996. Researchers started studying them only last year.
They include more than a hundred bone fragments, the longest measuring 16 inches â€” altogether less than 10 percent of the entire skeleton. One tooth was also found.
Holtz said that 200 million years ago was a critical time for the evolution of meat-eating dinosaurs. It was then that they started evolving into truly fierce predators.
``This specimen will be helpful in terms of the reconstruction of the dinosaurs' history and interrelations between various groups,'' Holtz said.
The Saltriosaur fossils will go on display Friday at Natural History museums in both Milan and Besano, near the quarry.