Abstract

The oldest known microsaur is preserved in a nodule from the Kinkaid Formation (Mississippian; Elvirian) collected near Goreville, Illinois. At least eight individuals are represented: three by partial skulls plus vertebral column segments with associated limb elements, and five by postcrania only. Skulls are crushed, incomplete, and exposed mainly in palatal view. Palatal bones are denticulate and the palatine has in addition a single large tooth. The basipterygoid process is laterally directed and the basipterygoid joint is open. The atlas carries large articulating facets for proatlantes, a pair of which are identifiable in one specimen. These features have not been found previously in a microsaur. All vertebral segments are dominated by a biconcave pleurocentrum; sutures between the pleurocentrum and neural arch are visible in presacral vertebrae. Distinctive microsaurian intercentra occur between all presacral pleurocentra. Their presence reinforces the hypothesis that microsaur intercentra are homologous with those of other early tetrapods. Caudal vertebrae retain separate haemal arches and some have ribs. Observed microsaur synapomorphies include: atlas with large median odontoid; atlas with concave lateral facets for occipital condyle; paired occipital condyles that are broad and concave; and thin, straplike intercentra. No observed features support a sister-group relationship with any other microsaur species, or placement within any higher level microsaur group. Because significant portions of the skeleton are missing or inaccessible, the Goreville microsaur is not formally named. A standardized, hierarchical format for skeletal characters is introduced that facilitates data sharing and comparison and fosters rapid archiving and retrieval.

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