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Important New Fossil Animal Discovered By South African Scientists

Date:
March 11, 1999
Source:
University Of The Witwatersrand
Summary:
Discovery of a new species of fossil animal 260 million years old, which reinforces South Africa as the place of origin of all mammals, has been announced by scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand.

JOHANNESBURG, March 11, 1999 -- Discovery of a new species of fossil animal 260 million years old, which reinforces South Africa as the place of origin of all mammals, will be announced today by scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Professor Bruce Rubidge, Director of the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research at Wits, and visiting Canadian researcher Dr Sean Modesto, headed a team that found the important fossil skull near Williston in the Northern Cape. The discovery itself was made by Mr John Nyaphuli of the National Museum in Bloemfontein, a long-standing colleague of Professor Rubidge who has been working with him on field trips for many years. The other member of the team that made the find was Dr Johann Welman, also of the National Museum.

The fossil is the skull of a sheep-sized animal that is the most primitive member yet found of a group of plant-eaters on the evolutionary line to mammals. Called Anomodonts (an-om-o-donts), they were the dominant land creatures during the Permian period more than 250 million years ago, long before even the dinosaurs had appeared on Earth.

Professor Rubidge, Dr Modesto and Dr Welman have called the new species Anomocephalus africanus (an-om-o-keff-a-luss af-rik-a-nuss), which literally means "Lawless-headed one of Africa". This refers to the fact that characteristics with the Anomodont group are not uniform throughout all its members.

The specimen has been described in the February 22 issue of the prestige publication Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Britain’s oldest scientific journal.

Said Professor Rubidge: "Before this discovery, it was thought that Anomodonts and other creatures with the group known as therapsids, or mammal-like reptiles, orginated in Russia. Anatomical data from our new find has allowed us to re-evalutate the family relationships of the Anomodonts, and show that the South African portion of what was the prehistoric supercontinent Gondwana, was actually an evolutionary hotspot 260 million years ago. It has reinforced the idea that the distant ancestors of mammals acutally came from South Africa."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of The Witwatersrand. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of The Witwatersrand. "Important New Fossil Animal Discovered By South African Scientists." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 March 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/03/990311060304.htm>.
University Of The Witwatersrand. (1999, March 11). Important New Fossil Animal Discovered By South African Scientists. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/03/990311060304.htm
University Of The Witwatersrand. "Important New Fossil Animal Discovered By South African Scientists." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/03/990311060304.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

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