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Discovery of possible earliest animal life pushes back fossil record
Date:8/17/2010

Scientists may have discovered in Australia the oldest fossils of animal bodies. These findings push back the clock on the scientific world's thinking regarding when animal life appeared on Earth. The results suggest that primitive sponge-like creatures lived in ocean reefs about 650 million years ago.

The shelly fossils, found beneath a 635 million-year-old glacial deposit in South Australia, represent the earliest evidence of animal body forms in the current fossil record, predating other evidence by at least 70 million years.

"These scientists have found that animals may have appeared on Earth 90 million years earlier than previously known," said H. Richard Lane of the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research.

"This is comparable to resetting modern times to begin during the late Cretaceous."

Previously, the oldest known fossils of hard-bodied animals were from two reef-dwelling organisms that lived around 550 million years ago.

There are also controversial fossils of soft-bodied animals that date to the latter part of the Ediacaran period between 577 and 542 million years ago.

Princeton University geoscientists Adam Maloof and Catherine Rose happened upon the new fossils while working on a project focused on the severe ice age that marked the end of the Cryogenian period 635 million years ago.

Their findings, published in the August 17 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, provide the first direct evidence that animal life existed before--and probably survived--the severe "snowball Earth" event known as the Marinoan glaciation that left much of the globe covered in ice at the end of the Cryogenian.

"We were accustomed to finding rocks with embedded mud chips, and at first this is what we thought we were seeing," Maloof said.

"But then we noticed these repeated shapes that we were finding everywhere--wishbones,
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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