A previously unknown family of dinosaur has been discovered by a University of Portsmouth researcher.
Mike Taylor, a PhD student, spotted an unusual looking bone while carrying out research in the Natural History Museum's Palaeontology Department's dinosaur collection.
'It leapt out at me as being different,' said Taylor. 'I've spent the last five years doing nothing but looking at sauropod vertebrae and I immediately realised it was something strange.'
'It was unmistakably a dorsal vertebra (part of the backbone) from a sauropod, but it didn't look like any dorsal I'd ever seen before.'
The find is a new sauropod, a member of a group of dinosaurs recognisable by their large bodies, long necks and small heads. It lived about 140 million years ago and has been named Xenoposeidon , which roughly translates to mean 'alien sauropod'.
Sauropods were herbivores. The largest were as big as a whales and weighed up to 70 tonnes, which is about as heavy as twelve elephants.
The bone has been in the Museum's collections since its discovery in the early 1890s in Ecclesbourne Glen, near Hastings, by fossil collector Philip James Rufford.
It was given a brief review by English palaeontologist Richard Lydekker after which it was untouched for the next 113 years.
'The Natural History Museum collection is so huge that it's impossible for anyone to know everything that's in there,' says Taylor. 'It's full of ancient treasures waiting to be rediscovered by scientists.'
Dr Paul Barrett, dinosaur expert at the Museum, explains, 'we have thousands of dinosaur specimens in our collection, many of which are used by scientists from all over the world for important and ongoing research. Because of their work, dinosaur bones are being constantly reassessed and our collections still offer us lots of surprises.'
Sussex is considered a rich hunting ground for dinosaur remains but because no precise record of where the bone was dug up was kept, palaeontologists cannot go looking for more of the skeleton.
Taylor and fellow palaeontologist Dr Darren Naish know the preserved bone came from near the hip area of the dinosaur. From this they made an informed guess about the size and shape of the animal and were able to establish why Xenoposeidon is not only a new genus and species, but a new family of dinosaur.
Taylor said, 'The big advantage we had over Lydekker was 113 years of research, during which time 100 sauropods had been named, many of them from excellent remains.'
'There were lots of animals we could compare our specimen with, and lots of useful papers describing and discussing them. It was quickly apparent that my first instinct had been right: this bone had belonged to a previously unknown species.'
Xenoposeidon will be named and described in the November 15 2007 edition of Palaeontology , the journal of the British Palaeontological Association.