New fossil species found in Mozambique reveals new data on ancient mammal relatives

Dec 04, 2013

In the remote province of Niassa, Mozambique, a new species and genus of fossil vertebrate was found. The species is a distant relative of living mammals and is approximately 256 million years old. This new species belongs to a group of animals called synapsids. Synapsida includes a number of extinct lineages that dominated the communities on land in the Late Permian (260-252 million years ago), as well as living mammals and their direct ancestors.

A team of paleontologists from nine institutions, including Kenneth Angielczyk, associate curator of paleomammology at Chicago's Field Museum, described the anatomy of Niassodon in the scientific journal PLoS ONE. The fossil was named Niassodon mfumukasi, which means in the local language (Chiyao): the queen of Lake Niassa. The name is a tribute to the Yao matriarchal society, to the women of Mozambique and to the beauty of Lake Niassa.

The research was conducted under the auspices of Projecto PalNiassa, an international, multidisciplinary scientific collaboration that includes more than two dozen scientists from three different continents. The goal of the project is to find, study, and preserve the paleontological heritage of Mozambique.

Niassodon mfumukasi is the first new genus (and species) of a fossil vertebrate from Mozambique, and its holotype (name-bearing specimen) is a rare example of a basal synapsid that preserves the skull and much of the skeleton together.

By using micro-computed tomography it was possible to reconstruct digitally not only the bones of Niassodon but also to build a virtual model of its brain. This reveals new information on the brain anatomy of early synapsids, which is important for understanding the evolution of many features of the mammalian brain. The reconstruction of the brain and inner ear anatomy developed for Niassodon is the most detailed presented to date for an early synapsid. Using the digital data acquired in the tomographies, it was possible to isolate all individual bones preserved which allowed the researchers to create a new topological color code, codified mathematically, for the cranial bones. This code will allow the researchers to standardize the colors used in similar digital model built for other animals. The fossil can be visited in the Lourinhã Museum (Portugal), but soon will return to Mozambique, where it will become part of the collections of the National Museum of Geology in Maputo.

The specimen was collected during fieldwork in 2009 with the support of National Museum of Geology (Maputo) and was prepared at the Lourinhã Museum (Portugal), Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (Oeiras, Portugal) and Southern Methodist University (Dallas); the 3D tomography was performed in DESY-HZG (Hamburg, Germany). This project was sponsored by Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, the National Geographic Society, and TAP Portugal.

Explore further: New proto-mammal fossil sheds light on evolution of earliest mammals (w/ Video)

More information: Bringing dicynodonts back to life: paleobiology and anatomy of a new emydopoid genus from the Upper Permian of Mozambique, PLoS ONE, 2013.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Oldest big cat fossil found in Tibet

Nov 13, 2013

Scientists have unearthed the oldest big cat fossil yet, suggesting the predator—similar to a snow leopard—evolved in Asia and spread out.

Keeping African artifacts in Africa

Apr 07, 2008

It is common for professional archaeologists and paleoanthropologists working in Africa to populate western museums with foreign artifacts by excavating and permanently removing them from history rich communities in Africa. ...

Meet Xenoceratops: Canada's newest horned dinosaur

Nov 08, 2012

Scientists have named a new species of horned dinosaur (ceratopsian) from Alberta, Canada. Xenoceratops foremostensis (Zee-NO-Sare-ah-tops) was identified from fossils originally collected in 1958. Approximately 20 feet l ...

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

10 hours ago

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

Apr 17, 2014

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

Apr 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.