Within a 288-million-year-old limestone cave in Richards Spur, Oklahoma, paleontologists came across a fragment of fossilized reptile skin.
It has now become known as the world’s oldest fossilized skin ever to be found. It is at least 130 million years older than the previous record holder.
The ancient fossil skin impressions belonged to a species of reptile that was alive before dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
The lizard-like animals were one of the first creatures to live away from the water’s edge on dry land for the entirety of their lives. They had bodies covered in pebbly, scaly skin, similar to a crocodile.
Despite being the largest organ in the body, skin is difficult to find in the fossil record because of its tendency to decay and rot away.
However, the piece of reptile skin was surprisingly well-preserved, containing the outside layer of skin as well as the internal structure.
The unusual conditions of the cave allowed the animal remains buried within it to be preserved. Animals that fell into fissures of the ancient cave system would have been buried in fine clay sediments, which slowed down decomposition.
The hydrocarbons in oil that seeped out of the cave’s stones combined with the sediment to preserve the remains.
Additionally, the cave was likely a dry environment with a lack of oxygen, which made conditions even better for preservation.