Bag-Like, Big-Mouthed Sea Creature Could Be Earliest Human Ancestor

Researchers have discovered fossilized traces of they believe to be humans’ earliest-known ancestor: a tiny, wriggly, sea-dwelling blob that may have pooped through its mouth.

Such early steps in evolution are rarely preserved in the fossil record—the delicate structures commonly breaking down over time. But a team of researchers from China and Germany came across just such a cache of fossils in Shaanxi Province of China, according to a press release from the University of Cambridge.

No larger than a millimeter, the creatures likely slithered through the sandy bottoms of the shallow seas some 540 million years ago, Nicholas Wade reports for the New York Times. Researchers dubbed the little creature Saccorhytus, after its “sack-like features,” documenting the oddball in a recent study published in the journal Nature.

The Saccorhytus is thought to be the oldest-known example of a “deuterostome”— an ancient biological class that is ancestral to many animals, including people. Other deuterostome groups familiar to scientists lived 510 to 520 million years ago, and had already began to diversify into different species.

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