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Recent Fossil Discoveries

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Each fossil that is discovered gives us invaluable information about the animals and wildlife of the past. A fossil represents the remains of an individual organism—a finite point in a vast ocean of past lifeforms and habitats. Each fossil discovery can help us to better understand both wildife of the past as well as present-day animals and how they relate to one another.

1. Fossil Hints at Origin of Scorpion, Horseshoe Crab Claws

Photo © Steinmann Institute / University of Bonn.
May 14, 2009. A 390-million-year-old fossil has yielded new insights into the evolutionary origins of the front claws of scorpions and horseshoe crabs. The fossil was discovered by scientists from Yale University and the University of Bonn Germany. It was unearthed in a quarry near Bundenbach in Germany and has been given the scientific name Schinderhannes bartelsi. The fossils recovered from this region, known as the Hunsrück Slate, are extremely durable and have previously produced other arthropod fossils such as shrimp-like creatures, scorpions, sea spiders and trilobites.

2. Evidence of Early Sponges Discovered in Oman

Photo © Love lab / UC Riverside.
February 11, 2009. Scientists studying sedimentary rocks in south Oman have discovered high concentrations of steroids that they believe were produced by ancient, multicelluar animals. The team proposes that the fossilized steroids, which date back 635 million years, were produced by sponges, one of the most basic forms of animal life on Earth. Sponges (Phylum Porifera) are a diverse group of aquatic animals, with about 5000 known species worldwide. Sponges are primarily marine creatures but there are also a few species of freshwater sponges.

3. Scientists Uncover New Species of Ancient Vertebrate

Photo © Christian Sidor / University of Washington.
October 16, 2008. A team of vertebrate paleontologists have recently described a previously unknown prehistoric amphibian, Kryostega collinsoni. The animal is estimated to have lived about 240 million years ago in Antarctica and belongs to a diverse group of prehistoric animals known as the temnospondyli—semi-aquatic animals that resembled large salamanders or crocodiles. Kryostega is thought to have been about 15 feet in length. It is estimated to have had a large skull about 2.75 feet long and 2 feet at its widest point (the estimates of the animal's size were made based on the size of its nostril, which was present in the fossil skull piece).

4. Fossils Reveal Bats That Could Fly But Not Echolocate

Photo © Royal Ontario Museum.
February 15, 2008. Two bat fossils recovered from the rocks of southwestern Wyoming have given scientists new clues about early bat evolution. The fossils have been classified as belonging to a new species of ancient bat, Onychonycteris finneyi, which lived about 52 million years ago. The fossils were unearthed in 2003 from Wyoming's Green River Formation, a geologic formation that dates back to the Eocene epoch (58-37 million years ago) and consists of layers of sediment deposited in a chain of intermontane lakes.

5. Terrestrial Ancestor of Whales Discovered

January 25, 2008. The fossil remains of a 48-million-year-old mammal have been unearthed by a team of scientists working in the Kashmir region of India. The research team, lead by Hans Thewissen of the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, classified the animal as an even-toed ungulate and described it as small and deerlike in build. They named it Indohyus. Indohyus is thought to be a very special discovery. It appears the animal spent much of its life in or near water. The skull and ear of Indohyus resembles those of whales.

6. Remarkable Fossil Discovery in Africa

Graphite Drawing © Laura Klappenbach.
July 11, 2002. An international archeological research team has discovered the fossilized remains of a six- to seven-million-year-old skull in the Sahel desert in the central African country of Chad. The significance of the Sahel skull rivals that of Australopithecus, discovered in the 1920's, and is described as the paramount archeological find of our time. The fossil represents a new genus and species of hominid (organisms that appear to be more closely related to present-day humans than to present-day chimpanzees). Previous hominid fossils have been found eastern and southern Africa.
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