Fully 20 million years before dinosaurs would begin to arise on the planet, there were part mammal/part reptilian beasts that roamed the earth, reaching ten feet in length and dominating the food chain. And to make it even wilder, these saber-toothed lizard-beasts are called—wait for it—”Gorgonopsians.” Yes: the original ROUS’s.
Sadly, these creatures were wiped out along with much of the rest of life on earth during the mass extinction event at the end of the Permian period. (Perhaps not so sadly in retrospect, at least for the eventual survival of a little group called homo sapiens.)
Well just this week, a fossil from one of these Gorgonopsians was revealed to house a very rare feature indeed: a fossilized tumor. In this case, a benign dental tumor. Evidence of prehistoric tumors is so rare because tumors are usually made up of soft tissue, which never fossilizes.
The fossil of the saber-tooth beast was found in Tanzania, and the discovery of the tumor in the jaw area came by accident. Researchers from the University of Washington were studying the find, and there was no indication from the exterior of the mandible that there was any unusual growth. But when the team took a thin slice of the jaw for scanning, they happened to slice through the tumorous region surrounding one of the canine teeth. As paleobiologist said, “There was no indication that there was a tumor in this jaw. It looked normal before we cut it open. It was pure luck that we found the tumor.”
In some ways, the find is a reminder to those of us in the O&G industry of today (and of course, anyone trying to do business in our volatile economy). Sometimes you just have to keep doing the small things right, day after day. And sometimes, when you least expect it, you’ll strike gold (or fossilized tumors, or oil, as the case may be).
For more on this week’s #FossilFriday, read the whole article here!