A research team has discovered what is believed to be the world’s oldest animal life, sponge-like fossils unearthed in rocks in a national park in Namibia.
According to researchers, the find in Etosha National Park proves that sponges are the earliest forms of animal life.
The fossils were found in rocks between 760 million and 550 million years old.
They are tiny speck-sized, vase-shaped creatures.
The experts analyzed thousands of the fossils using X-rays and scanning electron microscopes.
The discovery places the emergence of animals 100 to 150 million years earlier than scientists had previously thought.
The scientists describe the fossils as our “great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother”.
Scientists had predicted that the earliest life would take the form of sponges.
Earlier fossil finds in Australia had seemed to confirm this.
“If one looks at the family tree and projects this backward to where you have what’s called the stem group, the ancestor of all animals, then yes, this would be our great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother,” says researcher Tony Prave of the University of St Andrews.
“The aspect of this that’s rather satisfying, at least intellectually, is that it is in broad agreement with what geneticists would tell us based on looking at molecular clocks when we should see the first advent of large multi-cellular life forms.”
“This proves that the early lineages of animals go back considerably further in time,” say the researchers.
“The age of the fossils age places the advent of animals some 100 to 150million years earlier than proposed, and prior to the extreme climatic changes of Ediacaran time,” say the researchers.
These findings support the predictions based on genetic sequencing and inferences drawn from biomarkers that the first animals were sponges.