Research On A 130-Million-Year-Old Fossil Shows The Supercontinent Pangaea Separated Much Later Than Thought

A fossilized skull found in Utah shows Pangaea may have started its separation process 15 million years later than has been previously estimated.

New research shows Pangea separated much later than previously thought.
NASA / Getty Images

A fossilized skull found in Utah shows Pangaea may have started its separation process 15 million years later than has been previously estimated.

The surprising discovery of a 130-million-year-old fossil found in Utah has suggested that the supercontinent Pangaea began to separate in a much slower fashion than had been previously estimated by scientists. New research has now revealed that Pangaea may have actually started to split approximately 15 million years later than originally thought.

As ScienceAlert reported, the fossil that was just discovered has opened up a whole new species of mammals that were not known to exist before in North America, according to Adam Huttenlocker, the lead author of the new study.

“Based on the unlikely discovery of this near-complete fossil cranium, we now recognize a new, cosmopolitan group of early mammal relatives.”

James Kirkland, co-author of the new research on Pangaea, has noted that the new mammal was an exceptionally rare discovery and has been christened with the name Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch to show homage to Richard Cifelli. The name can also be translated to “yellow cat” in the dialect of the tribe of this area, known as the Ute.

“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.”

With the new find of this reptile-like creature, scientists will now be looking at the evolution of mammals very differently, according to Huttenlocker.

“For a long time, we thought early mammals from the Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago) were anatomically similar and not ecologically diverse. 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.”

Excitingly for scientists, finding the fossilized skull of Cifelliodon has shown that the supercontinent of Pangaea would have still been completely intact during the Early Cretaceous era.

When you look at continental drift, it was previously surmised that around 225 to 200 million years ago, Pangaea began to drift apart. However, after finding the 130-million-year-old fossil, it can now be shown that the drift would have started 15 million years later than this time frame.

Before Pangaea broke apart, early mammals were able to easily travel from Asia to Europe, where they could then migrate to North America and, later, continents that were further south.

The new study on the Utah fossil, which has caused scientists to reconsider when Pangaea began to split apart, has been published in Nature.