Thousands of undiscovered fossils including 50 previously unknown species are found in China

Fossils found at the Qingjiang site include specimens rarely seen from that era, such as jellyfish (pictured)

Fossils found at the Qingjiang site include specimens rarely seen from that era, such as jellyfish (pictured)

Fossils found at the Qingjiang site include specimens rarely seen from that era, such as jellyfish (pictured)

Thousands of undiscovered fossils dating back millions of years have been unearthed in China, potentially revealing new details about early life on Earth.

Newly discovered well-preserved fossils containing more than 50 previously unknown species of organisms were found, a new study has revealed. 

Paleontologists discovered thousands of fossils in rocks on the bank of the Danshui river in the Hubei province of southern China, some as much as 518 million years old.

The Qingjiang site is helping scientists fill gaps in the fossil record and give a clearer picture of some of the earliest animal ecosystems, scientists say. 

Amongst the thousands of fossils, primitive forms of jellyfish, sponges, anemones, worms, algae, tiny invertebrates called kinorhynchs or mud dragons and arthropods were found encased in an underwater mudslide.

Scientists believe the mudslide could have taken place more than 500 million years ago when life on Earth experienced a massive burst of diversity in life forms known as the Cambrian explosion.

The 4,351 separate fossils excavated so far include 101 species, with 53 of them previously unknown to scientists. 

More than 50 per cent of the discoveries are thought to be previously unknown species, the study published in the journal Science on Thursday.

Unlike other Cambrian fossil troves, the Qingjiang site is unique in that it not only includes well-preserved fossils but soft-bodied organisms as well, the study states.

Comb jellies (left) and a tiny form of invertebrates called a kinorhynch, or mud dragon (right), were also discovered

Comb jellies (left) and a tiny form of invertebrates called a kinorhynch, or mud dragon (right), were also discovered

Comb jellies (left) and a tiny form of invertebrates called a kinorhynch, or mud dragon (right), were also discovered

According to the authors, the unique aspects of Qingjiang have the potential to greatly inform the understanding of early animal evolution. 

Allison Daley, a paleontologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, was not part of the research but wrote a perspective that accompanied the study.

She wrote: ‘The treasure trove of the Qinjiang biota provides an exciting opportunity to explore how paleoenvironmental conditions influenced ecological structuring and evolutionary drivers during the Cambrian Explosion.’

Researchers say the discovery in China may rival previous fossil hauls, such as the Burgess Shale in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in 1909, Chengjiang in China and Emu Bay Shale in Australia. 

The site in Burgess dates back to 508 million years ago and includes well-preserved fossils that show evidence of animal’s skin, eyes, gut and brains. 

Scientists will be studying the recent Chinese discoveries to try and work out what they can reveal about early life on earth.

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