289 million-year-old skin fragment shocks paleontologists

Dino lovers everywhere, this one is for you! Well… almost! A team of researchers from the University of Toronto Mississauga in Canada were shocked while studying a reptilian skin fragment that dates at least 289 million years, it predates the oldest skin fossil in records by 130 million years.

The excitement surrounding the discovery stems from many unique aspects. For one it is rare to find skin in fossils because they easily deteriorate during decomposition, most fossils are an impression of what once was a living organism.  What made this finding so particular is the fact that it is not just an impression of skin, it is an actual layer of fossilized skin. Researchers were able to cut through it and examine a cross-section, in which distinct layers of epidermis and dermis were visible according to cell.com.

The fossil was found in a cave system in Oklahoma known for its fossils of Captorhinus aguti, a small lizard-like animal to which researchers believe the remains belonged. It has a dark and pebbled texture, which in this case was incredibly well preserved. Bill and Julie May, found the fossil while sifting through materials from a limestone quarry in Richards Spur (cave system), the Mays have collaborated with Paleontologist Robert Reisz for a long time. Reisz investigated the skin with students Ethan Mooney and Tea Maho at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

“We got very excited when we saw the texture,” stated Robert Reisz via nature.com, who coauthored the study.

The preservation of the fossil was likely due to oil actively seeping into the cave as the skin was fossilizing, causing, in Mooney’s words, “a total permeation and encapsulation”  of the organic materials with hydrocarbons, according to nature.com.

For more information on this astonishing discovery, you can find a detailed summary of all findings at cell.com.

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