The 123 million year-old fossil, now referred to as the Maotherim asiaticus, is just five inches long but remarkably preserved. According to Discovery.com, this allows the researchers to reconstruct how the creature’s middle ear was connected to its jaw—information that could help to explain the mystery of a high-performance hearing system.
As hearing is so fundamental to a mammal’s—and human’s—way of life, the study of its development is of great importance to researchers. Here's what Professor Zhe-Xi Luo, a curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and one of the study’s authors, had to say about the findings:
What is most surprising, and thus scientifically interesting, is the animal's inner ear... The development of the ear is seen as key to understanding survival techniques that steered mammals, including human ancestors, through the dinosaur-infested mesozoic period around 250 to 66 million years ago."
While the finding is significant, Discovery.com points out that "the ear connection could simply be a adaptation caused by changes in development, rather than an evolutionary link," and that the unearthed creature may not fit into the evolutionary chain at all.