The evolutionary secrets of a 230-million-year-old fossil reptile have been revealed, after a century of it being «locked inside a block of stone».
Researchers used powerful X-ray scans to examine the fossil, found a century ago in Scotland.
Their study produced the first full skeleton reconstruction of the creature Scleromochlus.
This small, scampering Triassic reptile is, scientists say, the ancestor of the great, winged pterodactyl.
The findings are published in the journal Nature.
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«We just didn’t understand just how much we were missing until we did these scans,» lead researcher Dr Davide Foffa, from National Museums Scotland, said.
Scleromochlus is part of a collection known as the Elgin reptiles – a set of fossils from the Triassic period unearthed in the 1900s in Lossiemouth, near Elgin, Moray.They date to a time when Scotland was largely a desert within the supercontinent Pangea.
Dr Foffa and his colleagues worked closely with the Natural History Museum, in London, where much of the Elgin collection is now held, to scan and study seven fragile, sandstone-entombed specimens of Scleromochlus.
Until now, it has been difficult to draw useful information from the fossils. But they piqued the palaeontologist’s interest because they date to a murky and critical point in the fossil record – about 10 million years before the first fossil pterosaurs.