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Fossils of what could be the oldest animal bodies have been discovered in Australia, pushing back the clock on when animal life first appeared on Earth to at least 70 million years earlier than previously thought.
The results suggest that primitive sponge-like creatures lived in ocean reefs about 650 million years ago. Digital images of the fossils suggest the animals were about a centimeter in size (the width of your small fingertip) and had irregularly shaped bodies with a network of internal canals.
The shelly fossils, found beneath a 635 million-year-old glacial deposit in South Australia, represent the earliest evidence of animal body forms in the current fossil record. Previously, the oldest known fossils of hard-bodied animals were from two reef-dwelling organisms that lived around 550 million years ago.
BBC February 2009
Traces of animal life have been found in rocks dating back 635 million years. The evidence takes the form of chemical markers that are highly distinctive of sponges when they die and their bodies break down in rock-forming sediments.
Animals Appeared Even Earlier
Princeton University geoscientists Adam Maloof and Catherine Rose happened upon the new fossils while working on a project focused on the severe ice age that marked the end of the Cryogenian period 635 million years ago. Their findings, published in the August 17 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, provide the first direct evidence that animal life existed before--and probably survived--the severe "snowball Earth" event known as the Marinoan glaciation that left much of the globe covered in ice at the end of the Cryogenian.