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Strange Fossil Identified as Oldest Known Animal

Sophia Acuna, Author

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For over 75 years, scientists have been puzzled over what the Dickinsonia, a long-extinct “mysterious jellyfish-like ribbed creature” truly is. Among the various guesses scientists have include a jellyfish, coral, mushroom, lichen, and the list goes on. But after a recent discovery in Russia, the decades-long debate is over: the Dickinsonia is the oldest known animal on Earth.

Reconstruction of the Dickinsonia

Although fossils of Dickinsonia were first discovered in 1947 and dozens of remains have been discovered since, the majority of the fossils found are simply imprints in sandstone. Paleontologist Guy Narbonne compares it to “…trying to judge the structure of our modern world if all you had was footprints.” So without much else to go off on besides what is essentially a footprint, there has never been a clear answer as to what the Dickinsonia is–until now.

Student Ilya Bobrovskiy discovered a shockingly well-preserved fossil of Dickinsonia near the White Sea in northwest Russia. He compared the molecular composition of this fossil with the composition of its surrounding seafloor: the seafloor contained ergosteroids, found in green algae, while the fossil contained large amounts of cholesterols, indicating animal life. This clear contrast between the two finally revealed the answer scientists have been looking for for decades: the Dickinsonia is an animal. Further research shows that the fossil dates back to 558 million years ago, making it the oldest known animal on Earth.

However, there are still some questions left unanswered. Is the Dickinsonia related to any animals we might recognize today? Are there animals even older than the Dickinsonia? But although this discovery doesn’t answer every question, it certainly solves the puzzle of the Dickinsonia once and for all.

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Strange Fossil Identified as Oldest Known Animal