The Earth was so young 300 million years ago, the first land animals had yet to evolve into dinosaurs, most scientists believe.
If that's the case, how do you explain the discovery in Russia of a piece of a gear shift -- a common machine part -- embedded into a hunk of 300-million-year-old coal. Has this artifact been correctly identified? And if so, who could have made this thing? And for what purpose?
According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, a resident of Vladivostok -- near the borders of China and North Korea -- named Dmitry, recently noticed something odd about a hunk of coal he had obtained to heat his home during the winter.
A metallic-looking rail or rod was pressed into the coal, prompting Dmitry to contact biologist Valery Brier, in the seaside Primorye region.
Initial examination of the strange object led researchers to assert it looked "very much like a toothed metal rail, created artificially. It was like parts [that] are often used in microscopes, various technical and electronic devices," wrote Komsomolskaya Pravda.
The piece of coal in question originated from the Chernogorodskiy mines of the Khakasis region. The Voice of Russia, an international Russian broadcasting service, reported that since the coal deposits in this region of the country can be dated to 300 million years ago, experts are suggesting that the odd piece of metal found in the coal must be that old as well.
The Voice of Russia also said, "When geologists broke the piece of coal in which the metal object was pressed into and spot-treated it with special chemical agents, it turned out the the metal detail was unusually light and soft. ... [It] was found to be composed of 98 percent aluminum and 2 percent magnesium," which led to the implication that the metallic object was created artificially.
Another important property of the object that intrigued the researchers was "its distinctive shape, which was reminiscent of a modern tooth-wheel," according to The Voice of Russia. "It is hard to imagine that an object could take [the] regular shape of a tooth-wheel with six identical 'teeth' naturally."
But who created this seemingly metallic piece 300 million years ago, presumably when there were no humans walking the Earth? Even Komsomolskaya Pravda implied that this piece of metal has an alien origin.
One scientist, geologist Sharon Hill, who goes by the name "idoubtit," says this entire story is "laughable." Writing in Doubtful News.com, Hill insists "there are so many red flags, you should discard it entirely."
Among the red flags Hill wonders about are, "Why is it not published in a journal? We have to accept the man's word for it, where he found it and how he discovered it? Why speculate on the alien origin of aluminum?"
Hill adds that "It's not part of a gear. It's a natural crystal formation I'd say. ... But as following the typical template for these stories, the extreme speculative and dramatic interpretation is hyped over any consideration of an actual explanation. That's sad because it could be cool."
The Voice of Russia says that Russian scientists won't jump to conclusions and will run more tests on the metal object.
Here are many other ancient discoveries found around the world