It took more than two decades and one pandemic for Paleontologists To piece together the fossilized remains of the earliest mammalian ancestors and find that their evolution that gave rise to modern humans may have begun in the southern hemisphere — not in the north as scientists have long thought.
Analysis of a small group of tiny fossilized jaw bones bearing distinct posterior teeth upends our understanding of when and where modern mammals evolved cephalopods, according to the team of researchers who produced it.
Paleontologist Thomas Rich of Museums Victoria is a longtime fossil hunter and co-author of the new study.
He was part of the team that announced in 1997, after 23 years of searching, that they had found one of the Australian beaches Mammary jawbone With strange teeth, the likes of which have only been seen in Europe and North America. It was the jawbone of a small shrew-like creature that dates back to the Cretaceous period dinosaurs Also wander.
As the years went by, more mammalian jaw bones emerged from Mesozoic The age has been discovered: in Madagascar, Argentina, India and, again, recently, in Australia.
Each of these specimens, measuring an inch or less, has distinct posterior teeth. According to the latest analysis revisiting them, the oldest fossil predates those from the Northern Hemisphere by about 50 million years.
“This amazing series of discoveries has completely changed our old theory of mammalian evolution. In fact, it has turned our ideas about mammalian evolution upside down,” He says.
The small teeth involved are called tribosphenic molars, which interlock from above and below to cut, crush, puncture, and grind plant food and insect prey.
During the pandemic, esteemed paleontologists Tim Flannery and Chris Helgen, chief scientist at the Australian Museum, had the idea to revisit the three Australian fossils of Tribosphene mammals – most recently Rich described in 2020 — and began sifting through the scientific literature to see what else they could find.
They realized that these strange teeth united early mammal fossils found in the southern hemisphere and that the Argentine specimen was the oldest in the group, millions of years older than any early mammal fossils found in the north.
From there, they plot an alternate origin story for mammals, whose ancestors could have hopped between southern continents when they joined together at a supercontinent called Gondwana about 125 million years ago before heading north.
Based on the age of the fossils and their anatomical similarities, the team believes they represent the ancestors of more ancient marsupials (such as koalas and Australian wombats) and placentals (which includes humans), which they grouped together as Bull mammals.
Our research indicates that Theria evolved in Gondwana, thriving and diversifying there for 50 million years before migrating to Asia during the early Cretaceous period. Explain Hegeln. Once in Asia, they diversified rapidly, filling many ecological niches.
The researchers suggest that the specialized molars of our early mammalian ancestors may have been key to their evolutionary success. But the evolution of early mammals that outlived dinosaurs did Scientists have long been fascinated It will undoubtedly continue to attract constant scrutiny.
In paleontology, like any other science, the weight of evidence speaks volumes. For more than 200 years, the diversity of mammals that inhabit the northern hemisphere and the abundance of fossils found there have led scientists to believe that the ancestors of placentals and marsupials originated in the north and spread south.
However, research shows that the fossil record could be Perverted by who is looking where. For now, all we have to challenge this ancient theory about where mammals originated from is this tiny set of tiny teeth—and it took several decades to find even those seven specimens.
“It is the most important piece of paleontological research, from a global perspective, that I have ever published, but it may take some time to find full acceptance among researchers in the northern hemisphere,” He says Flannery.
He even took a long time to accept the results of the analysis. “I have resisted the conclusion as much as I can, but the evidence is compelling,” Flannery said Tell Australian Geographic’s Science and Environment Editor, Karen McGhee.
In fact, not all paleontologists are convinced. While Flannery and his team viewed this new discovery as a monumental discovery that turns our understanding of mammalian evolution on its head, Flinders University paleontologist Gavin Prideaux He says Their conclusions are based on “the smallest fossilized tooth fragments”.
As he told the Sydney Morning Herald, there could be another explanation convergent evolution: that these tribosphenic molars may have evolved in a few separate places at similar times. “The jury is still out,” he said He says.
The study has been published in Alcheringa: An Australian Journal of Paleontology.
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