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A Fossil Has Just Been Discovered That Predates the Dinosaurs by 210 Million Years

Madeline Hiltz
(Photo Credit: Fossil Fandom via CC-BY-SA)

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Canada is set to display a very rare, very old fossil of a 450-million-year-old arthropod. Researchers reveal that this fossil, which is exceptionally well preserved, predates even the first dinosaurs, which first appeared around 240 million years ago.

The fossil is part of the ‘Tomlinsonus dimitrii’ species, part of an extinct group of arthropods. Researchers say that this newly discovered fossil is “exceptionally well preserved.”

The discovery was announced on March 24, 2022, in the Journal of Palaeontology. Lead author Joe Moysiuk, a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto who studies ecology and evolutionary biology, describes the species as “an ornate head shield adorned with remarkable featherlike spines, possessing stilt-like limbs.”

Typically only the hard parts of similar organisms (like the bones and shells) are fossilized. However, the Tomlinsonus dimitrii group of arthropods were entirely soft-bodied and lacked any mineralized body parts.

This discovery helps shed light on the preservation of soft-tissue organisms. According to Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, who co-authored the paper and is a ROM curator of invertebrate palaeontology, “the finding of entirely soft-bodied species like Tomlinsonus allows a much better understanding of the diversity of life that really existed at that time.”

This well-preserved Tomlinsonus dimitrii fossil was discovered when George Kampouris was searching for “shelly” creatures like sea lilies and trilobites when he came across the fossil. Kampouris is an independent paleontological technician who is a co-author of the recent paper published in the Journal of Palaeontology.

Tomlinsonus dimitrii

Artist impression of a Tomlinsonus dimitrii. (Photo Credit: Fossil Fandom via CC-BY-SA)

Tomlinsonus dimitrii is known to have lived in a “shallow tropical marine sea,” which covered most of the province of Ontario at the time of the species’ existence. The Tomlinsonus dimitrii species was no longer than an index finger in size. It is closely related to modern insects like spiders or scorpions.

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Many museums worldwide, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, expressed interest in acquiring the fossil. Ultimately, the fossil will be displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto in the recently-opened Willner Madge Gallery, Dawn of Life’s exhibit, which contains various other soft-tissue preservation fossils.