Ornithischia is a morphologically and taxonomically diverse clade of dinosaurs that originated during the Late Triassic and were the dominant large-bodied herbivores in many Cretaceous ecosystems. The early evolution of ornithischian dinosaurs is poorly understood, as a result in part of a paucity of fossil specimens, particularly during the Triassic. The most complete Triassic ornithischian dinosaur yet discovered is Eocursor parvus from the lower Elliot Formation (Late Triassic: Norian–Rhaetian) of Free State, South Africa, represented by a partial skull and relatively complete postcranial skeleton. Here, the anatomy of Eocursor is described in detail for the first time, and detailed comparisons are provided to other basal ornithischian taxa. Eocursor is a small-bodied taxon (approximately 1 m in length) that possesses a plesiomorphic dentition consisting of unworn leaf-shaped crowns, a proportionally large manus with similarities to heterodontosaurids, a pelvis that contains an intriguing mix of plesiomorphic and derived character states, and elongate distal hindlimbs suggesting well-developed cursorial ability. The ontogenetic status of the holotype material is uncertain. Eocursor may represent the sister taxon to Genasauria, the clade that includes most of ornithischian diversity, although this phylogenetic position is partially dependent upon the uncertain phylogenetic position of the enigmatic and controversial clade Heterodontosauridae.
© 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 160, 648–684.