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An enigmatic braincase from Five Points, Ohio (Westphalian D) further supports a stem tetrapod position for aïstopods

  • Jason D. PARDO (a1), Robert HOLMES (a2) and Jason S. ANDERSON (a1)

We describe a new specimen of the aïstopod Oestocephalus from Five Points, Ohio, which preserves much of the posterior braincase. The specimen, the largest aïstopod skull described, preserves the postorbital region to the occiput. The posterior braincase has coossified the basioccipital, exoccipitals, and opisthotic. The parasphenoid is rostrally restricted, toothless, and highly vaulted along the cultriform process. The lateral walls of the cultriform process are further reinforced by large longitudinally running, ventral flanges from the parietals. Two large endochondral ventral projections from the basioccipital, previously interpreted as basal tuberosities for hypaxial muscle insertion, are here instead interpreted as articulations for the branchial skeleton. This interpretation is further supported by traces of vasculature that is consistent with what is seen in gill-bearing species. A model for the reorganisation of the basicranial region on the transition from hyomandibula to stapes is proposed, which suggests that gills, or gill-support skeletal elements, might be further distributed along the tetrapod stem than previously thought. These data further support the placement of aïstopods in the tetrapod stem group and require a reconsideration of our understanding of early tetrapod evolution.

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