An unusual prehistoric find in the “Chinese Pompeii” turned scientists’ ideas about dinosaurs upside down

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An unusual find in China raises the possibility that some ancient mammals may have hunted dinosaurs to secure their dinner, reports the Associated Press.

The prehistoric fossil shows a badger-like creature gnawing on a small beaked dinosaur, their skeletons intertwined. The find was made at a site known as “Chinese Pompeii,” where mud and debris from long-standing volcanoes buried the creatures beneath them.

“Indeed, it appears to be a prehistoric hunt captured in stone like a freeze frame,” University of Edinburgh paleontologist Steve Brusatte, who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.

The fossil, described Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports, has preserved to this day images of two creatures that lived about 125 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period.

Although the mammal is much smaller, the researchers believe it attacked the dinosaur when they were both caught in a volcanic stream, said study author Jordan Mallon, a paleobiologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature. The mammal sits astride the dinosaur, its paws gripping the reptile’s jaw and hind limb while its teeth dig into the ribcage.

“I’ve never seen a fossil like this before,” Mallon admits.

The suggestion that mammals ate dinosaur meat has been made before: another fossil showed that a mammal died with the remains of a dinosaur in its intestines. But the new find also suggests that the mammals may have actually been preying on dinosaurs several times their size, rather than simply eating dead prehistoric creatures, Jordan Mallon notes.

“It turns the old story on its head,” emphasizes Steve Brusatte. “We used to think of the age of the dinosaurs as a time when dinosaurs ruled the world and tiny mammals hid in the shadows.”

The authors of the study acknowledged that several fake fossils were known in this part of the world, which Mallon said caused concern when they began their study. But after they prepared the skeletons themselves and analyzed the rock samples, he said they were confident that the fossil, which was found by the farmer in 2012, was genuine and would be happy if other scientists also studied the fossil.

The mammal in the fossil duo is the carnivorous repenomamus robustus, about the size of a domestic cat, Mallon said. The dinosaur – Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis – was about the size of a medium-sized dog with a beak similar to that of a parrot.

This species fed on plants, but other dinosaurs were carnivorous or ate both meat and plant foods. After all, dinosaurs probably still ate mammals more than the other way around, Mallon said.

“And yet we now know that mammals were able to resist, at least from time to time,” states the paleobiologist.

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