Jawed fish are proved to have thrived 440 million years ago, eventually moving on land and evolving into other animals. VCG
Humans evolved from apes. This is what we learned in biology class. But what came before apes? Chinese scientists have discovered fossils that could enrich the evolutionary story of how humans evolved from fish.
According to four articles published in the journal Nature in late September, Chinese researchers found fish fossils that provide the “missing link” about the origin of the jaw, a key trait that 99.8 percent of vertebrate species have.
Zhu Min, a lead researcher of the studies from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told China Daily that the findings drew a large amount of interest in the science world due to the importance of jaws in animal evolution.
However, the rise of the jaw had been a mystery due to a lack of sufficient fossil evidence to support that jawed vertebrates lived 450 million years ago.
The latest findings made by Zhu’s team presented a set of five surprisingly well-preserved fish fossils that included three whole-bodied fish, helping scientists paint a more accurate evolutionary picture of the origin of the jaw. The fish fossils were discovered at two sites in Chongqing and Guizhou, whose strata date back to the Silurian Period that began around 440 million years ago.
These fossils show that jawed fish were already thriving in the world’s ancient oceans at that time. Later on, more diverse and larger jawed fish evolved and began to spread around the world, paving the way for some fish to eventually go on land and evolve into other animals – including humans.
“These fossils provide an unprecedented opportunity to peek into the ‘dawn of fish’ and help scientists trace many human body structures back to these ancient fish, thus filling some key gaps in the evolutionary history of how fish evolved into humans,” Zhu said.