Jennifer Cavin was uncasting a large dinosaur fossil excavated in southeastern Utah, removing the protective plaster, when she made a discovery within the discovery.
“Come over here,” she yelled from across the lab, brushing away bits of dust and rock.
“I think I found another skull.”
There, tucked beneath the foot of the herbivore she was working on, was a fossilized cranium. The weird thing: It didn’tappear to belongto a reptile. Jim Kirkland knew that almost immediately when he rushed over to see it. This wasn’t like the other dinosaurs — lizards and raptors — they’d been uncovering. The state paleontologist was stunned.
Whatever the critter was, Kirkland told Cavin, it was more like a mammal than anything else. And it would have implications for what science has believed to be the timing of the breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea.
“We’ve never found a mammal there in these rocks before,” he said last week, after publishing the finding in a paper this month in the journal Nature. “This one skull turns out to be a complete oddball.”