500 million years ago, the oceans were a completely different world, filled with strange and alien creatures. Among these organisms, there was a unique cup-shaped creature with tentacles resembling those of a jellyfish. Recently, a fossil of this organism, named Auroralumina attenboroughii after David Attenborough, was discovered and identified as potentially the oldest example of an evolutionary group still existing today.
The fossil was found in the Charnwood Forest in central England, an area known for its rich pre-Cambrian paleontological finds. The rocks surrounding the fossil were dated to be between 556 million and 562 million years old. The fossil itself is an impression of a two-pronged creature with long stems topped by cup-shaped structures and tentacles. It is believed to represent the polyp stage of a cnidarian, a group of marine animals that includes jellyfish, corals, and sea anemones. The body of Auroralumina attenboroughii exhibits fourfold symmetry, similar to modern jellyfish.
By examining the fossil and using computer programs, the researchers concluded that the organism is a member of the cnidarian subgroup called medusozoans, which includes modern jellyfish. This finding suggests that Auroralumina attenboroughii is the oldest known animal with direct living descendants in the fossil record.
The researchers chose the name Auroralumina for the fossil due to its significance as an early animal, and its shape resembling the Olympic torch. The name combines the Latin words “aurora” meaning dawn and “lumina” meaning light. The species was named after David Attenborough, who grew up near Charnwood and has contributed greatly to raising awareness of its fossils.
This discovery challenges the traditional belief that modern animals originated during the Cambrian explosion around 539 million years ago. Fossils from the earlier Ediacaran period have been pushing back the timeline for the emergence of complex animal life, and Auroralumina attenboroughii adds to this growing body of evidence. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the ancient oceans and the evolutionary history of life on Earth.