This Fossil May Reshape Our Idea on When Supercontinent Pangaea Split

A 130 million-year-old skull of an ancient animal that likely resembled a squirrel has shaken up the scientists' idea on when the supercontinent Pangaea likely split up, and suggests this break-up occurred about 15 million years later than previously believed.

The near-complete skull, which is described in a new study published online in Nature Wednesday, was discovered this year in Utah. It is of a new mammalian species named Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch, and lived side by side with the dinosaurs, The Independent reported. The rabbit-sized animal is proving a real enigma for science.

Although a new species, similar fossils of closely related animals with similar dental traits were also found in northern Africa in previous digs. The animals are closely related and lived during the same time period, suggesting that creatures were able to freely roam between what is now North America and Africa for about 15 million years longer than previously suggested.

Related: A Piece Of North America Found In Australia Bolsters Theory Of Two Billion Year old Supercontinent

Today, we recognize that Earth has seven continents, but it was not always this way. Several hundred million years ago, all the continents were joined as one giant supercontinent called Pangaea. This continent was surrounded by a single ocean called Panthalassa, Live Science reported.

An image of earth from space. The continents did not always look as they do now. Reuters/Handout

This is not the first time that scientists have suspected that Pangaea existed for longer than previously noted, but this tiny piece of evidence helps to strengthen this theory. The skull also shows that early mammals were more widespread and more diverse than previously noted, and it demonstrates how fascinating they really were.

Related: When Earth's Supercontinent Pangea Was Torn Apart 130 Million Years Ago, The Planet Warmed Up

"For a long time, we thought early mammals from the Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago) were anatomically similar and not ecologically diverse," Adam Huttenlocker of the University of Southern California, who was involved with the research, told The Independent. "This finding by our team and others reinforce that, even before the rise of modern mammals, ancient relatives of mammals were exploring specialty niches."