Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have discovered a shark-like fossil that they have dated at 439 million years old.
Researchers determined the fossilized shark-like creature had a bony skull and skeleton, whereas ancient sharks were previously thought to only have cartilage-based skeletons. This discovery suggests that modern sharks and similar fish evolved from creatures with complex bone structures.
“It was a very unexpected discovery…. here is clear evidence of bony inner skeleton in a cousin of both sharks and, ultimately, us,” stated lead researcher Dr. Martin Brazeau, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial.
In 2020, a similar creature was discovered by the Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum and was calculated to be 410 million years old.
The discovery of the two ancient sharks upsets a previously theorized pathway of evolution. According to researchers, there is now proof that creatures with vertebrates began to diversify before previously thought.
“This is the oldest jawed fish with known anatomy,” said Prof. Zhu Min from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “The new data allowed us to place Fanjingshania in the phylogenetic tree of early vertebrates and gain much-needed information about the evolutionary steps leading to the origin of important vertebrate adaptations such as jaws, sensory systems, and paired appendages.”
These adaptations, through millions of years of evolution, become applicable to our human anatomy.
Dr. Ivan J. Sansom from the University of Birmingham said, “The discovery puts into question existing models of vertebrate evolution by significantly condensing the timeframe for the emergence of jawed fish from their closest jawless ancestors.”
Tracing back to the beginning of the earth, the roadmap for our current world today includes over 2.3 million species.