The ancient toothless ‘eel’ is your oldest known ancestor

More than a century ago, scientists were baffled by the discovery of an unusual fossil unearthed in a Scottish quarry. The remains suggested a toothless eel-like creature with a potentially cartilaginous skeleton, and for 130 years after the mysterious creature – named Palaeospondylus gunni — was unearthed, it continued to defy classification. Now, through the use of high-resolution imagery, a research team has finally determined that this mysterious fish may very well be one of our earliest ancestors.

“To place Paleospondyl in the evolutionary tree, identifying each skeletal element is a prerequisite,” said Tatsuya Hirasawa, associate professor of paleontology at the University of Tokyo in Japan, and lead author of a new study describing the fossil. The mysteries surrounding this little fish have persisted for years. so long because of two factors: its small size, with a body measuring only 2.4 inches (6 centimeters) long, and the unfortunate fact that fossilization has greatly compressed its skeleton, squeezing the individual bones into a deformed mass that was a paleontological nightmare to unravel, Hirasawa told Live Science in an email.

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