“The Flintstones” may now be considered historical fiction.
A new paper published in the journal Current Biology suggests that human ancestors lived with dinosaurs for a short time before the reptilian beasts went extinct.
An in-depth analysis of the fossil record for placental mammals — the group including humans, dogs and bats — has provided researchers with the answer to the long-debated question.
When an Earth-shattering asteroid hit 66 million years ago, the destruction killed all dinosaurs except for birds and other small animals, such as lizards and frogs, in an event that’s been dubbed the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction.
Palaeobiologists looked at statistical analysis of the fossil record to come to the conclusion that placental mammals did, in fact, exist prior to the catastrophic event.
“We pulled together thousands of fossils of placental mammals and were able to see the patterns of origination and extinction of the different groups,” lead author Emily Carlisle of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences said. “Based on this, we could estimate when placental mammals evolved.”
The team discovered that Primates (the human lineage), Lagomorpha (rabbits and hares) and Carnivora (dogs and cats) evolved right before the mass extinction.
“The model we used estimates origination ages based on when lineages first appear in the fossil record and the pattern of species diversity through time for the lineage,” co-author Daniele Silvestro from the University of Fribourg shared.
Researchers believe that the lack of competition from dinosaurs allowed placental mammals to diversify and evolve.
“Unfortunately we don’t know what our placental mammal ancestors would have looked like back then,” Carlisle admitted. “Many of the earliest fossils of placental mammals are quite small creatures such as Purgatorius – an early ancestor of primates – which was a small burrowing creature a bit like a tree shrew. So it’s likely that many of our ancestors were small and squirrely.”