Cranial structure and relationships of the Liassic mammal Sinoconodon*



    1. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, U.S.A
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    • †Authors in alphabetical order; no seniority of authorship implied.


    1. Institute of Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing, China
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    • †Authors in alphabetical order; no seniority of authorship implied.

  • *This paper was submitted for Vol. 82 Nos 1 & 2 in honour of Professor K. A. Kermack but was held over for lack of space.


The skull of the ‘Rhaeto-Liassic’ mammal Sinoconodon changchiawaensis (Young) from the lower Lufeng Series of China is described. It is characterized by a relatively larger and more robust dentary condyle and a greater reduction of the post-dentary bones than are present in the Morganucodontidae, Kuehneotheriidae, and Dinnetherium. In other aspects Sinoconodon is more primitive; precise post-canine occlusion is lacking, the mandibular symphysis is deep, the jaw articulation lies below a line projected through the apices of the teeth, the pterygoparoccipital foramen is large and the post-canine teeth cannot be divided into molars and premolars. The jaw articulation and braincase of Sinoconodon are compared with those of the two cynodont therapsids Probainognathus and Thrinaxodon. It is concluded that in the transition from therapsid to mammal the medial surface of the groove in the squamosal housing the quadrate was lost and, as a result, in Sinoconodon, Morganucodon and Dinnetherium the hollow medial surface of the quadrate abutted directly against the paroccipital process. A definition for the Class Mammalia is given. It is suggested that the three-boned middle ear was present in Cretaceous triconodonts, and that it probably arose independently in the lines leading to multituberculates and Cretaceous therians. The structure of recently discovered ‘Rhaeto-Liassic’ mammals and that of Sinoconodon indicates that there was greater diversity among the earliest known mammals than was previously thought.