Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 May 2011
Saltopus elginensis, reported in 1910 from the yellow sandstones of the Lossiemouth Sandstone Formation (Late Triassic) of Morayshire, NE Scotland, has long been controversial. It was described first as a theropod dinosaur, but others disagreed. Reanalysis of the type, and only, specimen using casts from the natural rock moulds, as well as X-rays and CT scans, has revealed new anatomical data not available to previous researchers. Saltopus was a small, 800–1000 mm-long biped, whose tail made up more than half its length. It is an avemetatarsalian because it has elongated and tightly bunched metatarsals, the tibia is longer than the femur, the calcaneal tuber is rudimentary or absent, and metatarsal II is equal to or longer than metatarsal IV; a unique assemblage of characters diagnosing this clade. Saltopus is a dinosauromorph on the basis of the reduced fingers IV and V, the saddle-shaped dorsal margin of the iliac blade, and the articulation of sacral rib 1 close to the front of the iliac blade. Saltopus is a dinosauriform on the basis of the trochanteric shelf and lesser trochanter on the proximal end of the femur, the waisted sacral ribs, and perhaps the rod-like and straight pubis. However, it lacks all apomorphies of Dinosauria, retaining for example the primitive condition of two sacral vertebrae. Cladistic analyses place Saltopus within Dinosauromorpha and Dinosauriformes, and between the basal dinosauriform Pseudolagosuchus and the derived clade consisting of Silesauridae and Dinosauria, so making it one of a radiation of small pre-dinosaurian bipedal archosaurs in the Triassic found so far in North and South America and in Europe.