Tetrapod fossil discovery in S. Africa dispels tropical myth

South African Primitive Amphibians Fossils Might Rewrite The Early History Of Life On Land

"Whereas all previously found Devonian tetrapods came from localities which were in tropical regions, these specific specimens lived within the Antarctic circle", Gess said at the launch.

The two new species, named Tutusius umlambo, after Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and Umzantsia amazana, are Africa's earliest known four-legged vertebrates at 360-million years old, 120-million years older than the first dinosaur discoveries in the region.

Until now nearly all of the sparse records of Devonian tetrapods came from the other large Devonian continent, Laurussia, which comprised what is now North America, Greenland and Europe. This discovery was brought to light on Thursday 7th June, and the fossils are reportedly dated back to about three 360 million years ago. Both were found in black shale at the Waterloo Farm roadcut, which was exposed during controlled explosions along the N2 highway between Grahamstown and the Fish River in 2016. The early tetrapods which are originated from the fishes at the time of the Devonian period and in this discovery it was believed that this organization took place in warm climatic conditions as the fossilized remains of every oldest known amphibian along with the ancestors and were found in tropical regions.

The emergence of tetrapods during the Devonian period marks an important event in our evolutionary history.

A reconstruction by the Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences of the University of the Witwatersrand showing Tutusius and Umzantsia.

The two fossils belong to two different species of vertebrates that would have probably looked like a cross between a crocodile and a fish, sporting a crocodile-like head and short stubby legs, but retaining a fish-like tail.

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All but two of them came from Laurasia.

The much larger southern supercontinent, Gondwana, which incorporated present-day Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica and India, has yielded nearly no Devonian tetrapods, with only an isolated jaw and footprints, being found in eastern Australia.

The only tetrapod fossils found in what was previously Gondwanaland came from Australia, which lay on its northern edge in the tropics. The only fossil found of these amphibian tetrapods was a jaw and footprints in eastern Australia.

Together with Per Ahlberg, the coauthor of the study, the whole team concluded that while tetrapods occurred in the world by the Late Devonian period, their evolution and migration to land could also have happened elsewhere in the world.

Tutusius is represented by a single bone from the shoulder girdle, whereas Umzantsia is known from a greater number of bones, but they both appear similar to previously known Devonian tetrapods. Taking this into account, it's highly possible that they originated anywhere in the world.

Gess, who works for the Albany Museum in Grahamstown, discovered the fossils in rock that he saved from road construction in 1999. This includes the Cradle of Humankind, the world's richest early hominin site and is home to around 40 percent of the world's known human-ancestor fossils.

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