Scottish undiscovery … and yes, you read that right: an UNdiscovery has been reported in ScienceDaily 13 November 2015 and Palaeontology, 2015; DOI: 10.1111/pala.12218. Scientists from Oxford University have found the fossilised jaw of a Middle Jurassic mouse in rocks dated as 167 million years old in the Kilmaluag Formation on the Island of Skye off the coast of Scotland. They carefully studied the specimen using a high-resolution x-ray CT scan at the Natural History Museum in London.

The jaw was 10mm (half inch) long and had an almost complete set of teeth. After comparing the teeth with similar fossil teeth previously found as isolated specimens the scientists found their new specimen contained teeth that had previously been identified as three different species: Palaeoxonodon ooliticus, P. freemani and Kennetheridium leesi. As Palaeoxonodon ooliticus was the first to be named, the new specimen was assigned to this species.

Roger Close, who led the study, commented: “In effect, we’ve ‘undiscovered’ two species. The new find shows that we should be cautious about naming new types of animals on the basis of individual teeth”.


Editorial Comment: This finding reminds us of a very real and widespread problem for fossil researchers: how can you be sure a new find is a new species, when species are defined by living characteristics, yet fossils are dead! This problem is even more fraught when a fossil find is only a small piece of a creature, such as a tooth.

The most notorious example of a misnamed tooth is Nebraska Man, a supposed primitive man that turned out to be an extinct pig. However, most mistakes for new fossil species aren’t quite as outrageous. They often turn out to be just variations, such as juveniles, of one species being classified as a different species within the same genus. This has happened many times with dinosaurs, so much so that some dinosaur experts have suggested that up to one third of named dinosaur species are really variations of other species. See our report “One third of dinosaur species may have to go”, here.

Part of the problem, of course, is that all fossil hunters want to have a fossil named after themselves, and every academic wants to get a paper published. (Ref. rodents, classification, taxonomy)

Evidence News vol. 15, No. 21
18 November 2015
Creation Research Australia