An 130-million-year-old skull uncovered in Utah could change the timeline for when the supercontinent Pangaea first split and broke apart, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.
The small bone belonged to an ancient mammalian species known as Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch that existed millions of years ago. The remains are significant because they reveals that Pangaea likely split up roughly 15 million years earlier than previously believed.
While this is the first time scientists have found evidence of Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch, past excavations uncovered the bones of closely related animals in the past. As a result, it is likely that the creatures managed to roam between North America and Africa — suggesting the two continents were connected — for millions and millions of years.
The skull is the best preserved haramiyidan bone ever found, and it gives a brand new understanding to the ancient group.
“Compared to modern mammals, Cifelliodon had a simple, tube-like brain, lacked complex bony structures usually associated with the front part of the brain case and nasal region, and had simple tooth roots, among other primitive features,” said lead author Adam Huttenlocker, a researcher at the University of Southern California, according to Reuters.
The finding is also important because, while researchers understand Pangaea, there are still many questions about it that need to be answered.
The skull is not the first time that scientists have suspected that Pangaea existed for a lot longer than estimates showed, but it does add credence to the theory. In addition, it also gives a glimpse into what mammals were like during that time.
“For a long time, we thought early mammals from the Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago) were anatomically similar and not ecologically diverse,” added Huttenlocker, according to Newsweek. “This finding by our team and others reinforce that, even before the rise of modern mammals, ancient relatives of mammals were exploring specialty niches.”