Well, here’s a fun little bit of news for the nature nuts out there! Today, a Canadian professor released a study suggesting the discovery of the world’s oldest fossils, coming out of a mountain range in the Northwest Territories. We’ve got a lot of big words to unpack, but we’re going to do our best! Here’s the lowdown.
The study comes from Elizabeth Turner, who is a professor of earth sciences at Laurentian University. And, she’s made the claim that she might have found fossils of sponges that could be up to 890 million years old. For reference, that’s around 350 million years older than the currently accepted oldest sponge fossil.
Turns out, the little guys’ simplicity also means they’re one of the earliest known animals to exist. What’s more, these new fossils are similar in look to the modern-day Keratose (aka Horny) sponge. Rather than an actual skeleton, these things have a ‘fibre network’ that can be fossilized over time. And they’re tiny by the way- we’re talking smaller than a human hair.
Which is where Professor Turner comes in. Working in the remote Mackenzie Mountains in the NWT, she focused on what used to be reefs almost a billion years ago, which may have been the home of the sponges in question. And now, we’ve got a bunch of imprints on rocks in the mountain. Boy, geology is crazy, isn’t it?
Professor Turner has been working on this discovery for almost two decades, having first visited the area back in 1992. Turns out, trying to figure out what was living and dead in a pretty much alien version of the earth is a tall task. But now, she seems to have enough evidence and support from her peers to share her findings with the world.
This begs the question- if it looks like a sponge and lives where a sponge would live, is it a sponge? Time (and more research) will tell, we guess!