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Researchers Unearth the Past to Solve Ancient Mystery

Several complete skeletons hint at sudden, mass extinction

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    Researchers from the Whiteside Museum of Natural History in Seymour are unraveling an ancient mystery -- a mammal-like reptile that predates dinosaurs by 60 million years. (Published Friday, Feb. 10, 2017)

    Researchers from the Whiteside Museum of Natural History in Seymour are unraveling an ancient mystery.

    "This is life," said Coleton Caldwell, assistant director of the museum. "The first time life is living on land, solely on land, and it's still trying to figure things out, you know? What works, what doesn't work? So it's just really, really, really unique."

    Working southwest of Wichita Falls, near the shore of Lake Kemp in Baylor County, the researchers have uncovered the skeletal remains of seven dimetrodons.

    The mammal-like finback reptiles roamed parts of North Texas 60 million years before dinosaurs arrived.

    Four of the skeletons are nearly complete, and all of them were found clustered together around what was then a watering hole.

    The evidence suggests not all of them are from the same species.

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    "It's really unique how there's so many animals just in this one spot," said Caldwell. "And then the mystery of why they're all here, alive together."

    "It's just all carnivores, which is really, really unique because it shouldn't work that way," said Caldwell.

    "Something catastrophic enough happened to kill all these animals at once," said Museum Director Chris Flis. "And it happened in an area where there's no more life around to actually strip it of flesh and meat and bone, so something happened, something so major that nobody had the time, had time enough to come back and clean up the mess."

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    "This is probably something as simple as a slight change in chemicals or oxygen or CO2 level," said Flis. "So studying how these guys died can tell you what to look out for now."

    Over the last several years, the team has accumulated a large collection of specimens from nearby dig sites in the vast Craddock Bone Bed.

    "We've seen thousands and thousands of bones," said Flis. "So we're changing the way dimetrodon looks."

    "It doesn't have a dinosaur-shaped nose," said Flis. "He's got a square nose, very similar to mammals, and the funny thing is he's got buck teeth. So the two giant fangs that stick out of the front shows that his teeth are really buck teeth that are good for puncturing very quickly."

    "We're seeing a glimpse of life before the dinosaurs, which is very important because we're seeing the beginnings of where mammals come from," said Flis.

    The most complete dimetrodon skeleton currently on display is at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

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