On the News @ Geological Society of London
The search for the world’s oldest animal fossils
“New research on some of the world’s oldest potential animal fossils is published today in the Journal of the Geological Society.
The Weng-an Biota, from the Doushantuo Formation in South China, is around 600 million years old, and provides a snapshot of marine life during the Ediacaran – roughly 635 to 541 million years ago.
‘It is thought that animals had evolved by this time’ says the paper’s lead author, Dr John Cunningham of the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, ‘but undisputed animal fossils aren’t known until the Cambrian, tens of millions of years later. The putative animal fossils described from the Biota would be the oldest animals in the entire fossil record.’
‘In addition, the preservation of the Weng’an fossils is unique. The microscopic fossils are preserved to a cellular or even subcellular level.’
It can be difficult to establish whether such small fossils – some no more than single cells – belong to animals or a different group.
‘We try to identify features that are unique to one group alone’ says Dr Cunningham. ‘Characters like Y-shaped junctions between cells have been argued to be an important animal feature, but we now know that they actually occur in distantly related groups like algae.’” (…) READ MORE
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