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New fossil find prompts Pangaea split rethink

Posted on Thursday, 24 May, 2018 | Comment icon 6 comments

The continents were arranged very differently in Earth's past. Image Credit: NASA / Terry Virts
A new fossil discovery has revealed that the early supercontinent split more slowly than previously believed.
From around 335 to 175 million years ago, there was only a single land mass - Pangaea - a veritable super-continent situated in the southern hemisphere and surrounded by a superocean, Panthalassa.

According to the continental drift hypothesis, Pangaea began to break up between 200 and 225 million years ago, but now this latest fossil discovery has pushed this event back a further 15 million years.

Discovered in eastern Utah, the fossil itself is that of a small mammal named Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch. It was the size of a hare which at the time made it something of a giant.

"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," said study co-author James Kirkland.

The discovery has helped to change our understanding of how early mammals evolved.

"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.

"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."

Source: Science Alert | Comments (6)

Tags: Pangea

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Taun on 24 May, 2018, 11:43
I wonder what the landmass looked like prior to Pangaea... Was it separate land masses that drifted together and then over time apart again, or did continental drift begin then? And if it began then, why?
Comment icon #2 Posted by third_eye on 24 May, 2018, 11:45
The Continents were practicing the hokey pokey ... ~
Comment icon #3 Posted by Essan on 24 May, 2018, 12:05
It was seperate landmasses that joined to form a super-continent. They had previous split from an earlier super-continent. And before that another ..... The very first super-continent - where it all began 2,400,000,000 years ago - is called Kenorland
Comment icon #4 Posted by paperdyer on 24 May, 2018, 13:59
Wasn't part of the split/drift due to the Earth still cooling causing the shift in the plates?
Comment icon #5 Posted by pallidin on 24 May, 2018, 21:36
"Pangaea - a veritable super-continent situated in the southern hemisphere and surrounded by a superocean, Panthalassa" Huh. I didn't know the surrounding superocean had been given a specific name. Now I do.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Tom the Photon on 25 May, 2018, 10:39
Geologists believe the continents have been drifting together and apart throughout history. They can model the current movement and look for clues such as fossils and minerals along plate edges. It's the most likely reason why some areas have a huge range of rock-types in close proximity. Extrapolating backwards is extremely difficult but effectively its a giant jigsaw puzzle with lots of different pictures to assemble and loads of missing pieces. We know earthquakes occur at plate margins as they collide and release vast amounts of energy. The ring of fire around the Pacific is the obvio... [More]

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