Ancient toothless 'eel' is your earliest known ancestor

Ancient toothless ‘eel’ is your earliest known ancestor

More than a century ago, scientists were stumped by the discovery of an unusual fossil unearthed from a Scottish quarry. The remains suggested a toothless eel-like creature with a potentially cartilaginous skeleton, and for 130 years after the mysterious creature — named Palaeospondylus gunni — was unearthed, it continued to defy classification. Now, with the use of high-resolution imaging, a research team has finally determined that this mysterious fish may very well be one of our earliest ancestors.

“To place Palaeospondylus in the evolutionary tree, identification of each skeletal element is prerequisite,” said Tatsuya Hirasawa, an associate professor of paleontology at the University of Tokyo in Japan, and lead author of a new study describing the fossil. The mysteries surrounding this little fish persisted for so long because of two factors: its diminutive size, with a body measuring just 2.4 inches (6 centimeters) long, and the unfortunate fact that fossilization dramatically compressed its skeleton, squeezing individual bones into a distorted mass that was a paleontological nightmare to unravel, Hirasawa told Live Science in an email.

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