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Ancient 'shark' from China may be humans' oldest jawed ancestor

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Posted (IP: Staff) ·

Living sharks are often portrayed as the apex predators of the marine realm. Paleontologists have been able to identify fossils of their extinct ancestors that date back hundreds of millions of years to a time known as the Palaeozoic period. These early "sharks," known as acanthodians, bristled with spines. In contrast to modern sharks, they developed bony "armor" around their paired fins.

A recent discovery of a new species of acanthodian from China surprised scientists with its antiquity. The find predates by about 15 million years the earliest acanthodian body fossils and is the oldest undisputed jawed fish.


These findings were published in Nature on Sept. 28.


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Chinese fish fossils take a bite out of mystery of origin of jaws

More than 20 individuals of a fish about 1.2 inches (3 cm) long called Xiushanosteus mirabilis were found in Chongqing municipality. It was part of a group of armored fish called placoderms that later included some real giants.

Its front half was covered by semi-circular bony plates. The back half was much more like a typical fish, including a powerful tail. It lived 436 million years ago, as did the similarly sized shark relative Shenacanthus vermiformis whose fossils came from the same site.

Shenacanthus was wrapped in large bony plates in the shoulder area, surprising for a shark relative. Unlike modern sharks, Shenacanthus had a weak and toothless jaw, perhaps feeding on small, soft-bodied prey.

Two other shark relatives - 4-inch (10 cm) long Qianodus duplicis and 6-inch (15 cm) long Fanjingshania renovata - dating from 3 million years earlier were found in nearby Guizhou province.


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