August 18th, 2010
10:42 AM ET

Scientists find oldest record of animal life on Earth

The fossils were found in an Australian glacial deposit.

Fossils from Australia show animal life on Earth began at least 650 million years ago, 70 million years earlier than previous estimates, Princeton University scientists report.

Princeton geosciences professor Adam Maloof and graduate student Catherine Rose came upon the fossils while researching a massive ice age, known as the “snowball effect,” that left much of the planet covered in ice 635 million years ago. Scientists had thought animal life could not have survived that ice age. But as they inspected a glacial deposit in south Australia, they found the fossils of the sponge-like ocean reef animals.

“No one was expecting that we would find animals that lived before the ice age, and since animals probably did not evolve twice, we are suddenly confronted with the question of how some relative of these reef-dwelling animals survived the 'snowball Earth,’" Maloof said.

"We were accustomed to finding rocks with embedded mud chips, and at first this is what we thought we were seeing," Maloof said. "But then we noticed these repeated shapes that we were finding everywhere - wishbones, rings, perforated slabs and anvils. … we realized we had stumbled upon some sort of organism.”

The researchers call the animals sponge-like because the fossil record shows them to have a network of internal canals, likely for filtering food from seawater as sponges do. The earliest fossilized record of sponges had been 520 million years ago. The earliest fossils of hard-bodies animals date to 550 million years ago.

The scientists published their findings in the August 17 issue of the journal Nature Geosciences. Their research was sponsored by National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences.

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soundoff (565 Responses)
  1. NickB5

    Good article 🙂 love seeing this kind of news.

    August 18, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. andrew

    Upon reading this story, I instantly knew there would be droves of Creationist trolls running amok.

    August 18, 2010 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. andrew

    zuozuo: I know you guys hate critical thinking, but there is a little problem with your "God SAID seven days, but he really MEANT thousands of years" theory. Write down the seven days of creation and then try and imagine flowers growing for thousands of years without birds or bees to pollinate them.

    August 18, 2010 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. andrew

    "intelligent design" is a fallacy in its own right. It's a never-ending cycle. The designer is complex, therefore must have been designed by a complex designer who is itself, complex and therefore must have been designed by a complex designer, etc.

    August 18, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. andrew

    Can you anti-science nuts at least spare the rest of us and at least have the personal conviction to abandon all science and technology that surpasses the bronze age? Do you realize that the technology involved with sending information in the form of photons in a matter of milliseconds would be considered heresy 100 years ago? The irony of using the internet to argue that science hasn't explained anything is quite amusing.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. DonTheCanuck

    "But if you look at the Book of Genesis, it says basically the same thing! Now how could ancient people, with no technology to speak of, no schooling to speak of, no huge research library, possibly come up with that? As for a "day" as mentioned, that is a period of time (as in "back in my day") not necessarily 24 hours.
    Science is actually getting closer to the Bible.
    I think the find in this article is really cool. The diversity of life, now and before, is fascinating and wonderful."

    I don't believe in God ... when I look up, I just can't bring myself to believe that there is some omnipotent being living somewhere in the clouds that is all knowing, all powerful and created everything my will and thought alone. However, I am open to the idea that this "theory" is plausible when you consider the primitive culture that originally came up with it. Something was seen to start it all off. I don't profess to have even the slightest idea of what that might have been. Could have been a natural phenomenon that they interpreted (solar eclipse, meteor shower, whatever), could have been a superior life form that came down to check on it's seeded creation and (to a primitive culture) was seen as a God (and could very well be interpreted as one), or they could very well have been visited by an angel, a holy spirit or God himself. No one knows. No one ever will (unless they are right and there is an afterlife where all questions are answered. People need to realize that if there IS a God, and I'm not saying there is, but if there is, I would tend to believe that the bible was meant as a non-literal guideline one how life was created and then made into what it is now. 7 days to create the heaven and the earth. Probably now a 24 hour day. It's a guideline to allow people of the time to comprehend the concept. 1 day could represent a billion and a half yrs. So on the day "God created man", it could very encompass multiple millenia (sp). That one day could encompass primordial creation, evolution to primitive man and our trancendance to the modern era. If there is a God ... creationism and evolution might be one and the same on the same "day". Perhaps you're ALL right.

    August 19, 2010 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. Dusk

    wow these posts are amazing, there are so many good explanations that are being ignored while others are being debated like crazy.... I being christian can see why so many people have issues with evolution.. it comes down to simple reasons...
    if you believe in evolution then:
    1)dont belive in god
    2)we are chimps
    3)Jesus doesnt exist

    ok that last one is really how this usally what christians are afraid of... and yes I do mean afraid.. alot fo christians dont read the bible and believe on blind faith.. the problem with that is that if someone tells them something opposite of what they were taught then they began to question it all, because they begin to question their faith, which begans to fail, and thats becuase the have no true backing to their faith. because they are ignorant to the word they blindy follow.. so they become violent to any change to their belief system no matter what... look for instance the debate of where christ was crucified.. hands vs the wrists.... even though sience an the church have agreed that wrists wee where the body of christ was hung because the hands can not support the weight of the body and the Romans who had this form of death down to an art form... would have used the wrist in order to keep the person they were killing on the cross for the longest amount of time. But some will still argue the hands.. because the pictures and paintings show hands.... and that is issue with evolution.. the bible doesnt say it therefore it doesnt exist.. (side note... if thats the case then as a christian you have to belive in unicorns Job 39:9-12 (King James Version)..

    now this is what is the truth.. we dont know........ we have theorys... but we dont know... science can tell you how a dino evollved into a chicken... but it cant tell you what started that spark of life... and what life is..... when does somethign that is matter become living...... we cant create life.. life begins and we dont know why..... science is not the enemy... it is there to help us better understand the world so we dont cower at the soudn of thunder beluiveng gods angry and shouting... we know better... the people who wrote the bible used what they best coudl to solve those riddles.. we have the knowledge now to explain things moses or noah was not able to explain... and so here are soem truths
    Evolution explains
    1) we didnt evolve from monkeys... we know that monkeys and man evolved way to simliarly to be conicidence and therfore must have a common ancsester... not that we came from them.... the creature that links us may ahve been a 6 legged goat... we will not knwo till that crucial link is found.
    2)God and life cant be explained which doesnt make them any less real.. we just dont have an explantion.. and lack of explaintion doesnt mean ti doesnt exist
    3)Evolution can occur within couple generations... and that is why darwins theroy was wrong... yes.. some times it may take millions of years.. but tradgedys and or enviroment can cuase evolution leaps and bounds.. that is nature.. taht is the world... we are meant to survive at all costs and sometimes that means nature will find a way...

    August 19, 2010 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jeshurun

    I am coming to you as a man of God. Do not be fooled by all that is being found. What they are finding has never had a breath of life breathed into it. The Lord has spoken to me and what I tell to you is true and faithful all this wisdom that they think that they are gathering is going to turn into their stumbling block for their wisdom shall be turned into foolishness. If you believe in God and his Christ stand on that belief for that is your foundation. If you do not then I beg of you to learn about Christ except him into your hearts and be healed. Your time is running out.

    August 19, 2010 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
  9. David

    People in these fora type with such certainty about the integrity of scientists and the Church. I will make the presumption that they are referring to Catholicism. I only wish that these people would spend as much time researching both as they do posting on internet discussion boards.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  10. Daniel

    Still sniffing rocks. It seems that the tests itself is without merit. You would have to travel back in time, get a rock, and use that one to make a test. A rock test is hypothrtical at best. For all we know, there could have been life 5 trillion years ago, 5 trillion trillion years. There is no way of knowing. Rock sniffing is just plain old religion based on faith. God did create, for nothing can not create anything. There could not be a bang if there was nothing to combine to make a bang. God made the bang and God made the entire everything for everything to exist, with a single thought and a word, a shout.

    February 23, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
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