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The world's oldest animal that lived 558 million years ago in Russia has been identified for the first time.
Scientists realised that the specimen was an animal after finding it contained traces of cholesterol, a type of fat that is the hallmark of animal life.
Strange - Organism - Years - Explosion - Life
The strange, relatively flat organism lived 20 million years before the 'Cambrian explosion' of animal life.
Scientists have described the discovery of the fossil, which looks like a cross between a leaf and a thumb print, as the ''Holy Grail' of palaeontology.
Marine - Creature - Dickinsonia - Feet - Metres
The bizarre marine creature, which has been named Dickinsonia, grew to almost four and a half feet long (1.4 metres), and almost just as wide.
Lead senior researcher Professor Jochen Brocks from the Australian National University, Canberra said: 'The creature in fact produced cholesterol, which is the hallmark of animals. It tells us it is in fact our earliest ancestor.'
Animal - Rib - Segments - Body
The animal was oval-shaped with rib like segments running along its body.
It lived during the Ediacaran period which spanned nearly 100 million years before the start of the Cambrian period.
Explosion - Animals - Macroscopic - Organisms - Molluscs
The 'Cambrian explosion' was when complex animals and other macroscopic organisms – such as molluscs, worms, arthropods and sponges – began to dominate the fossil record.
It was not known if they were actually animals – until now, the authors wrote in the paper, published in Science.
Fossil - Fat - Molecules - Animals - Years
'The fossil fat molecules we have found prove animals were large and abundant 558 million years ago, millions of years earlier than previously thought', said Professor Brocks, who is an Earth scientist.
The fossil was dug up by PhD student Ilya Bobrovskiy in a remote area on the White Sea coast in northwest Russia.
'Scientists - Years - Dickinsonia - Fossils - Edicaran
'Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Edicaran Biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution or the earliest...
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