Important New Fossil Animal Discovered By Wits Scientists

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 tomorrow 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 evolutiona

Contact: Martha Molete
University of the Witwatersrand

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