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A trove of fossils found in China includes the world’s oldest teeth ever found, along with fossils that could give scientists insight into how today’s aquatic creatures evolved.
The fossils were originally found by a field team in 2019 after a frustrating trip during which no fossils were found, according to an email to the Associated Press from Min Zhu, a paleontologist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the team’s principal investigator.
The fossils are said to date back to the Silurian Period, some 443 million years to 419 million years ago, when animals with backbones were still swimming on a planet mostly covered in water. The fossils are said to be in good condition considering their age.
Scientific discoveries from this period have been lacking until now due to the rarity of fossils.
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Among the fossils, the researchers found 14-million-year-old bones called tooth whorls with several teeth growing out of them. Zhu claimed that they are the oldest concrete evidence of jawbones to date.
Other fossils included a shark-like creature that featured a bony front, along with a jawless fish that is expected to provide more insight into how ancient fins eventually became arms and legs. Philip Donoghue, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol and one of the authors cited in the papers, said this was a rare find as the fossil included the entire body rather than just the head.
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A new series of papers published Wednesday in the journal Nature details scientists’ recent findings as they delve deeper into China’s various fossils, including teeth.
The researchers claimed that the Silurian Period marked a distinct change in the evolution of our backbone-bearing ancestors, as they began to develop teeth and jaws around this time. This new adaptation allowed them to hunt for prey instead of foraging for food like other bottom-dwelling animals.
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Donoghue said this change also spurred more anatomical evolutions, including the addition of fins.
“It’s right at this interface between the Old World and the New World,” Donoghue said.
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Associated Press contributed to this report.