Date and Time
Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 16-18 Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HN
Among vertebrate fossils, dinosaurs are preeminently popular and instantly recognizable. Non-dinosaurian fossils such as the marine reptiles of the Mesozoic - ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs - are often regarded as quintessential “British Fossils”. Unfortunately the Synapsid (mammal-like) reptiles have received much less exposure; yet this group of fossils are, in most respects, a more important divison of vertebrates than dinosaurs.
Most synapsids appear much more “advanced” than the dinosaurs which eventually replaced them in geological history. They are noteworthy for their great antiquity; familiar beasts such as the fin-backed Dimetrodon are among the earliest of reptiles. Synapsids dominated the Permian and Early Triassic ecosystems to the same extent as did the dinosaurs during the Mesozoic. They were an extremely diverse and widespread group, South Africa and Russia being particularly rich in fossil synapsids.
With regard to South African synapsids: the geological history of what was once southern Gondwana played a central role in the origin of the mammals, decline of the synapsids but also the origin of the dinosaurs. Until the late Triassic, synapsids were the most significant part of the environment or remote mammalian origins. Indeed, it is not generally known that mammals are a more ancient lineage than dinosaurs! It is as the ancestors of modern mammals that synapsids have their greatest significance in palaeontology.
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