The classic ape-to-human evolution illustration needs serious revision. Scientists have uncovered what they believe is the earliest ancestor of humans—in fact, of all animals; from dinosaurs to dragonflies to duck-billed platypuses. However, the resemblance is elusive—this early forerunner of us all was a microscopic sponge. Hundreds of these tiny fossils have been found in 760-million-year-old rocks in Namibia. C. K. “Bob” Brain from the Ditsong Museum in South Africa is studying these sand-grain-sized fossils, newly dubbed Otavia antiqua. He and his colleagues in Africa and the U.K. think that the sponges lived in shallow, calm water, where they ingested algae and bacteria, sucked in through pores in their bodies. Previously, the oldest animal relative was another sponge, “only” 650 million years old, meaning that Otavia trumps the title of “oldest ancestor” by more than 100 million years. Although they say that you’re supposed to “throw out a sponge after a month,” real sponges are quite hardy—the oldest and youngest fossil sponges are 200 million years apart in the fossil record, apparently surviving equally well across warm and icy periods in Earth’s history.

Read more at National Geographic News.

Find the original article in the South African Journal of Science.

Published On: March 12, 2012

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