In a finding that could shed light on the early evolution of mammals, scientists have uncovered exquisitely preserved skeletons of previously unknown, shrewlike creatures that lived during the age of the dinosaurs.
Even tiny ear bones are present in the 80 million-year-old fossils, found in Mongolia's Gobi Desert, said Michael Novacek, a researcher.
Five skeletons were found together in a nest, Novacek said. No such complete specimens of this kind of mammal had been found before from that time period, he said.
The creatures, about 6 inches long from nose to the tip of the tail, represent a previously unknown species, Novacek said.
"These five individuals give us so much exquisite detail on skeletal features that they're very important in sorting out early mammalian evolution," he said. "This is a very important window into the roots of the history of the modern mammal groups."
The find is "a tremendous discovery," commented William Clemens, curator of mammals at the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California at Berkeley.
The fossils were unearthed last summer at a site that had made headlines a few months before, when researchers announced that a expedition in 1993 had found a remarkable collection of well-preserved fossils. …