(CNN)It has taken more than 20 years to extract, assemble and interpret a mysterious find from a famed marble quarry about 50 miles north of Milan, Italy. Now, with the investigation finally complete, Italian paleontologists say the fossils discovered in 1996 by an amateur fossilist, Angelo Zanella, are from a new species of dinosaur with four-fingered hands that offer clues to how modern bird wings evolved.
One-ton Italian dinosaur's 'hands' offer clues to evolution of modern bird wings
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A new species warrants a new name. This one is "Saltriovenator zanellai," with "Saltrio" referring to the Italian municipality of discovery, "venator" meaning hunter in Latin and "zanellai" honoring Zanella.
Saltriovenator zanellai, which lived about 200 million years ago during the dawn of the Jurassic period, was "a fierce, large predator" that spanned nearly 8 meters in length (26 feet) and possessed an 80-centimeter skull (more than 2½ feet long), according to the study authors. The 1-ton meat-eater was armed with sharp teeth and had forelimbs with four fingers, three of which formed powerful claws.
Saltriovenator is the first Jurassic dinosaur from Italy and the most ancient predatory dinosaur of large size yet discovered, said lead study author Cristiano Dal Sasso of Milan's Natural History Museum. His team's research was published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ.
"Saltriovenator predates the massive meat-eating dinosaurs by over 25 million years and sheds light on the evolution of the three-fingered hand of birds," Dal Sasso said in a statement.