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Fossil Fish Face Find Stuns Scientists
Scientists in China have discovered what could be the earliest example of a creature with a distinct human-like face.
The 20cm-long fossil was dug up near the southern Chinese town of Quijing and could be the missing link in the development of animals with backbones.
The prehistoric fish fossil has a jaw and skull-like features similar to humans and disproves earlier theories that modern vertebrates with bony skeletons evolved from a shark-like creature with a frame of cartilage.
The new discovery, which has been named Entelognathus primordialis (meaning primordial complete jaw), lived in the seas of China during the Late Silurian period around 420m years ago and had a heavily armoured head and trunk and a scaly tail.
Commenting on the find, palaeontologists Matt Friedman and Martin Brazeau said the implications were "stunning".
"It will take time to fully digest the implications of such a remarkable fossil, but it is clear that a major reframing of our understanding of early jawed vertebrate evolution is now in full swing," they wrote in Nature magazine.
Brian Choo from Beijing's Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology said: "This astounding discovery does throw a spanner in the works of some long-held ideas about vertebrate evolution.
"The implications are clear: ostheichthyans (bony fish) did not independently acquire their bony skeletons, they simply inherited them from their ancestors."
John Long, a professor of palaeontology at Flinders University in Australia said: "This finally solves an age-old problem about the origin of modern fishes.
"We now know that ancient armoured placoderms (prehistoric fish) gave rise to the modern fish fauna as we know it."
Prof Long described the discovery as "the most exciting news in palaeontology since Archaeopteryx or Lucy," referring to two fossil discoveries crucial to our understanding of the evolution of birds and humans.