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fossil

Scientists May Have Solved the Mystery of an Ancient ‘Alien Goldfish’

Scientists may have finally figured out where an ancient sea animal fits into the “tree of life.” The animal, known as Typhloesus wellsi, perplexed scientists for nearly 50 years, leading them to dub it the “alien goldfish.”

Typhloesus was just 90 mm long when it was alive. It had no fins other than a singular large tail fin. Bizarrely, it also had no backbone, anus, eyes or shell.

Scientists previously thought the creature was a conodont, a group of jawless vertebrates that resembled eels. Upon closer inspection, scientists realized that the Typhloesus fossil specimen actually showed the animal had the remains of a conodont inside its digestive tract, indicating the Typhloesus ate conodonts.

The recent discovery of a tooth-covered ribbon-like structure in the Typhloesus helped scientists figure out its possible taxonomic placement. Paleontologists believe they were most likely a marine mollusk and an ancient relative of gastropods like sea slugs.

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Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron and Dr. Simon Conway Morris, paleontologists at the University of Cambridge, made the discovery after examining several Typhloesus fossil specimens taken from a 330-million-year-old fossil deposit in the Bear Gulch Limestone site in Montana, US.

Dr. Caron found the toothed tonguelike structure under a high-powered scanning microscope. The structure was similar to that of a radula, an anatomical structure snails and mollusks use to scrape food into their mouths.

The scientists believe the structure was likely attached to a retractable trunk. The alien goldfish would extend it whenever it was feeding, much like a lizard. The existence of the Typhloesus’ radula led scientists to deduce that the mysterious creature may be a mollusk.

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Dr. Caron believes the creature was similar to a sea slug, which swims through water, sticking its radula through trunklike proboscis to hunt prey. Typhloesus also had a flexible body and large tail. They were likely good swimmers and did not move along the sea floor.

Professor Mark Purnell from the Center for Paleobiology at the University of Leicester in the UK suggests that scientists cannot definitively say “the very strange animal” is a mollusk.

“[The researchers] have found some tantalizing new information, but it is far from being a slam-dunk case in terms of definitely knowing what this weird thing is.”

Typhloesus fossils predate the rest of the swimming snail fossil record by over 100 million years. Dr. Christopher Whalen, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, said that since sea slugs lacked shells and other features commonly imprinted in fossils and quickly swam in the water, they are not as present in fossil records.

Understanding the Typhloesus will help paleontologists learn more about the evolution of mollusks, the planet’s second largest group of invertebrates.

According to Dr. Caron, studying the strangest creatures often unearths the most valuable discoveries.

 “They are enigmatic, but they reveal a lot of important evolutionary information.”

Scientists Discover Tiny Fossil Found In 16-Million-Year-Old Amber, ‘A Once-In-A-Generation Find!’

Microscopic tardigrades are a species that have lived on Earth for more than 500 million years. It’s thought that these miniscule creatures will also outlive humans, however, due to their extremely small size, they don’t typically leave behind fossils for us to learn about them. 

Recently, however, scientists discovered the third-ever tardigrade fossil on record, and they found it suspended in a piece of 16-million-year-old Dominican amber. 

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The species found within the amber has been classified as Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus, a new species thought to be a relative of the modern living family of tardigrades known as Isohypsibioidea. This is the first tardigrade fossil to appear during the Cenozoic era, the current geological era that the Earth is in which began 66 million years ago. 

The study on this discovery was published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a scientific publication. 

Beneath a microscope, these tardigrades look like little water bears. They’re known for their ability to survive and thrive in extreme environments, which is why they’ve been around for so long. They’re no longer than one millimeter, have eight legs with claws at the end, a brain, nervous system, and a pharynx behind their mouth used to pierce food.

“All of these details are incredibly well preserved in the new fossil specimen, down to its tiny claws. The discovery of a fossil tardigrade is truly a once-in-a-generation event,” said Phil Barden, senior author of the study.

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“What is so remarkable is that tardigrades are a ubiquitous ancient lineage that has seen it all on Earth, from the fall of the dinosaurs to the rise of terrestrial colonization of plants. Yet, they are like a ghost lineage for paleontologists with almost no fossil record. Finding any tardigrade fossil remains is an exciting moment where we can empirically see their progression through Earth history,” Barden said.

The fossil will now allow scientists to observe all the evolutionary changes this species has endured within the past hundreds of millions of years. Javier Ortega-Hernandez, the study’s co-author, claimed that at first, they didn’t even notice the fossil in the piece of amber they collected. 

“It’s a faint speck in amber. In fact, Pdo. chronocaribbeus was originally an inclusion hidden in the corner of an amber piece with three different ant species that our lab had been studying, and it wasn’t spotted for months. Close observational analysis helped us determine where the new species belongs on the tardigrade family tree. The fact that we had to rely on imaging techniques usually reserved for cellular and molecular biology shows how challenging it is to study fossil tardigrades. We hope that this work encourages colleagues to look more closely at their amber samples with similar techniques to better understand these cryptic organisms,” Ortega-Hernández said in a statement. 

“We are just scratching the surface when it comes to understanding living tardigrade communities, especially in places like the Caribbean where they’ve not been surveyed. This study provides a reminder that, for as little as we may have in the way of tardigrade fossils, we also know very little about the living species on our planet today,” said Barden.

Neanderthal

Neanderthals Buried Their Dead With Flowers, According To New Discovery

Scientists are constantly looking into the history of humanity for any details they can gather regarding our culture and what it used to look like as it came into development. We evolved from Neanderthals, who evolved from monkeys, and as our consciousness came more into fruition as our genetics and brain capacities also continued to evolve, our ancestors were able to conceptualize things such as religion, art, and the basis of humanity as we know it today. 

Recently, in the Shanidar Cave located in Iraqi Kurdistan, archaeologist’s discovered Neanderthal remains that appeared to be over 70,000 years old; a discovery as monumental as this hasn’t occurred in over 20 years. According to the study posted in regards to this discovery, there’s a significant reason why it’s being labeled as “monumental” as it gave experts a real insight into how our ancestors processed death, and even a look at what could be the first use of cemeteries and other traditional ceremonious elements that one would do in times of death/grieving.

“So much research on how Neanderthals treated their dead has to involve returning to finds from 60 or even a 100 years ago. To have primary evidence of such quality from this famous Neanderthal site will allow us to use modern technologies to explore everything from ancient DNA to long-held questions about Neanderthal ways of death, and whether they were similar to our own,”  said Emma Pomeroy, lead study author at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology.

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The 60-year-old data that Pomeroy is referring to in this quote regards famous archaeologist Ralph Solecki and his own experience with Shanidar Cave and Neanderthal death culture. In the mid-1950’s, Solecki discovered the remains of 10 Neanderthal men, women and children in the cave. Before this, there had been little to no discoveries of mass grave sites for Neanderthals, so the fact that Solecki found 10 was quite remarkable. 

Solecki also noted in his initial discoveries that he found ancient clumps of what appeared to be pollen within the bones of the remains. This is where the first theories regarding Neanderthal rituals began to emerge, as Solecki was quick to suggest that our ancestors likely buried their dead and did so with flowers as a part of their “funeral” traditions. At the time, it was hard for him to gain any credibility regarding this theory due to the fact that up until his discovery it was generally understood that all Neanderthal’s were the spitting image of how we stereotype them; brute, dumb, big and aggressive.

Due to a slew of political complications and his health getting the best of him, Solecki never was able to return to the caves before his death last year, however, between 2016 and 2019, the team who wrote the study in the scientific journal Antiquity were able to go back, make some new discoveries of their own, and even help to further prove Solecki’s theory. 

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When the team from Cambridge returned to the Shanidar Cave and discovered even more Neanderthal remains in a “unique assemblage” in regards to one another, they began to think that Solecki was definitely onto something. Their initial conclusion was that the Shanidar Z’s (what the team referred to the deceased Neanderthal group as) likely routinely returned to this specific cave location to bury their dead; creating what could be one of the world’s first ever cemeteries. 

Beyond just the bodies themselves, the team also discovered a large triangular rock prominently placed amongst the remains, which could’ve been used as a grave marker/tombstone. The clumps of pollen that Solecki mentioned in his initial studies were also found yet again, nearly 65 years later, within the rib fragments of the remains. 

Researchers want to move beyond the basic realm of the start of humanity and really dive into where the birth of human culture began. Our ancestors were one species, of one race/ethnicity, so at one point in time, there was a universally accepted way of life that all of our ancestors accepted. The goal is to get to the root of that creation, and discover where it all came from and why. 

“In recent years we have seen increasing evidence that Neanderthals were more sophisticated than previously thought, from cave markings to use of decorative shells and raptor talons. If Neanderthals were using Shanidar cave as a site of memory for the repeated ritual interment of their dead, it would suggest cultural complexity of a high order,” Pomeroy said.