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.