130-million-year-old Fossil Could Rewrite Timing For Supercontinent Pangea Breakup

Posted: May 25 2018, 5:50pm CDT | by , Updated: May 25 2018, 11:54pm CDT , in Latest Science News


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130-million-year-old Fossil Could Rewrite Timing for Supercontinent Pangea Breakup
Credit: Keck School of Medicine of USC/Jorge A. Gonzalez

New study says that Pangea did not completely separate until 15 million years after previous estimate.

Earth only had one massive supercontinent called Pangea until it split apart and formed seven continents. But the timeframe of pangea breakup remains uncertain because of the lack of evidence.

A 130-million-year-old fossilized skull could possibly fill the gap. The fossil was discovered at a site in eastern Utah and belonged to an early relative of modern mammals, but above all, it is the only fossil of an early mammal from this time period in Utah.

The new mammal species was about the size of a small hare and weighed around 2.5 pounds. Researchers named it Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch. The first word of the name pays tribute to famed paleontologist Richard Cifelli while wahkarmoosuch (yellow cat) was used in respect of the area where it was found. The unique fossil reveals that the super-continental split likely occurred more recently than scientists previously thought and that the process continued for millions of years.

"The skull of Cifelliodon is an extremely rare find in a vast fossil-bearing region of the Western Interior, where the more than 150 species of mammals and reptile-like mammal precursors are represented mostly by isolated teeth and jaws.” James Kirkland, study co-author and in charge of the excavation said.

It is generally believed that the northern and southern continents were completely separated by the end of the Jurassic Period or about 145 million years ago. But newly discovered fossil suggests that early mammals migrated from Asia to Europe, into North America and even further until landmasses separated.

"For a long time, we thought early mammals from the Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago) were anatomically similar and not ecologically diverse," said lead author Adam Huttenlocker from University of Southern California. "This finding by our team and others reinforce that, even before the rise of modern mammals, ancient relatives of mammals were exploring specialty niches: insectivores, herbivores, carnivores, swimmers, gliders. Basically, they were occupying a variety of niches that we see them occupy today."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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