For the analysis, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in France, where the three fossil fragments were scanned with X-rays, applied a data extraction method to reveal tiny details of fossil bones buried deep inside the rock matrix. The fossilised bones are embedded in rock so dense it absorbs most of the X-rays. "Without the new method, it would not have been possible to reveal the elements of the spine in three dimensions with a resolution of 30 micrometres" says Sophie Sanchez from University of Uppsala and ESRF who is a co-author of the publication.
In these high-resolution X-ray images, the scientists discovered that what was thought to be the first bone - known as the intercentrum - is actually the last in the series. And, although this might seem like a trivial oversight, this re-arrangement in vertebral structure has over-arching ramifications for the functional evolution of the tetrapod backbone.
Stephanie Pierce explains: "By understanding how each of the bones fit together we can begin to explore the mobility of the spine and test how it may have transferred forces between the limbs during the early stages of land movement".
But, the findings didn't end there. One of the animals - known as Ichthyostega - was also found to have an assortment of hitherto unknown skeletal features including a string of bones extending down the middle of its chest.
Jennifer Clack says: "These chest bones turned out to be the earliest evolutionary attempt to produce a bony sternum. Such a structure would have strengthened the ribcage of Ichthyostega, permitting it to support its body weigh
|Contact: Claus Habfast|
European Synchrotron Radiation Facility