Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Rare Fossils of 400-Million-Year-Old Sea Creatures Uncovered

by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer | July 08, 2015 07:02am ET

Morocco's vast, rocky deserts were once covered with oceans teeming with life during the Ordovician period, about 485 million to 444 million years ago, a new study finds. But these stunning animals, now fossilized in mineralized splotches of violet, yellow and orange in the desert rock, would be unknown were it not for the tenacious work of a Moroccan fossil collector and a broke graduate student.

The Moroccan formation, known as the Fezouata Biota, holds some of the oldest known marine animals on Earth. It's home to more than 160 genuses, including an armored, wormlike creature (Plumulites bengtsoni) and a giant, filter-feeding arthropod (Aegirocassis benmoulae), according to the new study.

During the past few years, these newfound Fezouata fossils have rewritten evolutionary textbooks. A batch of horseshoe crab fossils show that the critters are about 25 million years older than was previously thought. What's more, the horseshoe crab fossils are incredibly complex, suggesting their ancestors evolved far earlier, said study lead researcher Peter Van Roy, a paleontologist at Yale University. [See photos of the extraordinary Fezouata biota fossils]

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