This is almost too wild to be true.
An incredible fossil depicts an ancient mammal locked in a battle to the death with a dinosaur — a snapshot of the prehistoric past so incredible that researchers carried out additional studies to make sure it wasn't a fake.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports, a new study about the unlikely death match, which was captured in stone roughly 125 million years ago between the herbivorous dinosaur and the badger-esque mammal, details not only the surprising pair-up, but also the steps taken to ensure its veracity.
In an interview with the New York Times about the stunning find, paleontologist and study co-author Jordan Mallon said that because fossil forgeries are such a "big problem," he and his colleagues at the Canadian Museum of Nature, alongside researchers at China's Hainan Vocational University of Science and Technology, took great pains to figure out if it was a really good fake.
To do so, they dug into the dirt surrounding the fossilized bones to make sure the dog-sized Repenomamus robustus mammal was actually biting into the much smaller Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis dinosaur. They concluded that the bite, at least, was legit — and from there, after matching the rock in the fossil to that in the bed where it was purportedly found in northeastern China, they determined with near-certainty that it was the real deal.
— Jordan Mallon (@Jordan_Mallon) July 18, 2023
While there are, as Mallon acknowledged, "examples today of small carnivorous mammals taking down much, much larger prey," there hadn't until now been any fossilized examples of a mammal tangling with a dinosaur, in spite of their hundreds of millions of years of coexistence.
"We rely on spectacular fossils like this to really fill in the gaps of how these ancient ecosystems work," he continued, "because we can’t always rely on just the bones alone to tell us these stories."
Though this rare and spectacular scuffle raises as many questions as it answers — not least of which precisely being how they died in the midst of combat — it's nevertheless an incredible find that could shed light on the epochs during which dinosaurs and mammals roamed the Earth together.
And if it turns out to be a phony, as Mallon quipped to the NYT, it'd be "the best I’ve ever seen."
More on strange fossil finds: Scientists Make Horrific Discovery About Cannibalism in Human Ancestors
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