Dubbed Kryoryctes cadburyi—as in Cadbury chocolate—the dinosaur-era mammal was roughly the size of a large cat, covered with quills, and toothless.
A distant relative of today's spiny anteater, the species lived about 106 million years ago alongside dinosaurs in what is now Australia.
Helen Wilson, then a student at Australia's Monash University, was one of the bone diggers in the summer of 1987.
"The food at the dig was terrible, and all of us students lived on chocolate," Wilson said. "I asked Tom what we'd get if we found a dinosaur jaw, and he said he'd give me a kilo [2.2 pounds] of chocolate"—which she went on to win and consume almost single-handedly.
If a dinosaur jaw was worth two pounds of chocolate, what would a mammal specimen merit?
"For Tom, a mammal bone was the holy grail," Wilson said.
Quite certain that a mammal bone wouldn't be found, Rich promised a cubic meter [35 cubic feet, or about a ton] of chocolate to anyone who came up with a specimen.
Back to the fossil:
The specialists determined that the fossil was in fact a mammal bone, from an early echidna, to be exact.
Echidnas are insect-eating burrow dwellers that, unlike other mammals, lay eggs. The two living species of echidnas, also known as spiny anteaters, occur only in Australia and New Guinea.
The mammal experts wrote up the scientific description for publication, and the newfound mammal was announced this week in the December issue of the Journal of Mammalian Evolution.
I've not been able to find any pictures of the fossil...