Discovery of 450 Million Years Old 'Missing Link'

Apr 27, 2005

A 15-year search for fossils in Africa has led to the discovery of eight fish specimens that are 450 million years old – 50 million years older than any previous fish fossil on the continent and amongst the oldest in the world.

Professor Richard Aldridge, of the Department of Geology at the University of Leicester, who co-led the scientific expedition, says the fossil discovery is among the most remarkable and exciting ever to be found on the continent. He said:

‘These exciting fossils help to fill in a ‘missing link’ in the evolutionary history of the very early fishes. They are new to science, and we have yet to describe them and to give them a scientific name.’
Scientists working on fossils in the Cedarberg Mountains around Clanwilliam, South Africa, unearthed the ancient remains of forms that represent the evolutionary stage before the fishes had any skeleton at all.

The scientific team, led by Professor Aldridge of the University of Leicester and Dr Hannes Theron of the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, has been working on these deposits for fifteen years and many remarkable fossils have been recovered.

Professor Aldridge said: “These new fish finds are among the most exciting ever. People may wonder how we know that these fossils are fishes, when we have no bones with which to identify them. The answer is that the exceptional preservation displayed in these rocks enables us to recognise the eyes, scales and even the liver of the animals. The impressions in the shale are very faint, but they are also very clear and diagnostic.”
The first, incomplete, specimen was found in 1994, just as the first elections in the new South Africa were taking place, and we nicknamed the fossil ‘Nelson’ in honour of the newly-elected President. In the eleven years since then no more specimens were found, until this year when the team, amazingly, recovered seven additional specimens.

Dr Theron provided further background: ‘These fishes come from a time in the remote past when Africa was in an ice age, and before any animals had colonised the land. They are preserved where they lived in a shallow sea fed by melt waters from the receding ice sheets.’

Source: University of Leicester

Explore further: Successful engine test enables SpaceX Falcon 9 soar to space station in Jan. 2015

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Poor fish harvests more frequent now off California coast

Sep 26, 2014

As a child in southern California, Ryan Rykaczewski spent a fair amount of time on his grandfather's boat, fishing with him off the Pacific coast near Los Angeles. At the time, he didn't think there was much rhyme or reason ...

Japanese researchers film rare baby fish 'fossil'

Nov 17, 2009

Japanese marine researchers said Tuesday they had found and successfully filmed a young coelacanth -- a rare type of fish known as "a living fossil" -- in deep water off Indonesia.

Life on Earth still favours evolution over creationism

Sep 11, 2014

Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution, first published in 1859, offered a bold new explanation for how animals and plants diversified and still serves as the foundation underpinning all medical and biological ...

Fossils of tiny, unknown hedgehog identified

Jul 08, 2014

Meet perhaps the tiniest hedgehog species ever: Silvacola acares. Its roughly 52-million-year-old fossil remains were recently identified by a University of Colorado Boulder-led team working in British Columb ...

Recommended for you

The top 101 astronomical events to watch for in 2015

Dec 24, 2014

Now in its seventh year of compilation and the second year running on Universe Today, we're proud to feature our list of astronomical happenings for the coming year. Print it, bookmark it, hang it on your ...

NASA image: Frosty slopes on Mars

Dec 24, 2014

This image of an area on the surface of Mars, approximately 1.5 by 3 kilometers in size, shows frosted gullies on a south-facing slope within a crater.

Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem?

Dec 24, 2014

Bright stars top Christmas trees in Christian homes around much of the world. The faithful sing about the Star of Wonder that guided the wise men to a manger in the little town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.