The fossil was recovered from sedimentary rock strata in the Karoo Basin. It dates from 250 million years ago, at the beginning of the Triassic Period. At that time, the ecosystem was recovering from the Permo-Triassic mass extinction that wiped out most of life on Earth. In the Pangea Supercontinent context, what is now South Africa was an enclave in the southern half called Gondwana. It was the scene of pronounced climatic warming and increased seasonality marked by monsoonal rainfall. To survive this harsh environment, many animals, including mammal-like reptiles (mammal forerunners), developed a digging behavior, attested by the numerous fossilized burrow casts discovered in the Karoo Basin. These casts have long been thought to enclose fossilized remains, triggering interest from palaeontologists. Early this year, an international group of scientists started to research the contents of these burrows using X-ray synchrotron computed microtomography.
Two burrow casts were selected from the collection at Wits to be scanned using the state-of-the-art facility at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF). Using the unique properties of the X-ray beam which enables non-destructive probing, the scan of the first burrow started to reveal the skull of a mammal-like reptile called Thrinaxodon, an animal previously reported in another burrow.
As the scan progressed, the three-dimensional reconstruction displayed results beyond expectations: the mammal-like reptile was accompanied by an amphibian Broomistega, belonging to the extinct group of Temnospondyl.
"While discovering the results we were amazed by the quality of the images", says lead author Fernandez, "but the real excitement came when we discovered a second set of teeth completely dif
|Contact: Erna van Wyk|
University of the Witwatersrand