Synchrotron-based imaging techniques of a 50 million-year-old lizard skin have identified the presence of teeth which are invisible to visible light, demonstrating for the first time that this fossil animal was more than just a skin moult.
Researchers used Synchrotron Rapid Screening X-ray Fluorescence at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in California to map the chemical make up of a rare fossil lizard skin - powerful x-rays enabled the team to map the presence of phosphorus from teeth in this ancient reptile.
The relative position of the phosphorous in the skin fossil helped the scientists identify the type of lizard. They believe that the more elongated snout in conjunction with the general jaw shape bears a strong resemblance to a shinisaurid lizard (Bahndwivici ammoskius). The presence of phosphorous also demonstrates for the first time that the fossil skin is more than just a moult, as no lizards can shed their teeth along with their skin!
Dr. Phil Manning from the Palaeontology Research group at the University of Manchester said, "Finding the presence of teeth changes almost everything we thought we knew about this fossil. We can identify the type of lizard for the first time, based upon the geometry of the teeth. Our findings also raise some fascinating questions about what happened to the animal after its death. What wiped out its bones but preserved the skin and the ghost of its teeth?
"The technique permits us to tease-out chemical information from fossils, information that you simply cannot see with the naked eye. Such chemical maps can help us see 'ghosts' of original biological structures that only remain in very dilute concentrations in the fossil."