The empirical pursuit of facts has allowed us to recreate the evolution of human existence from our forefathers’ fossils. The narrative is undoubtedly inadequate, and the plot is constantly changing as new fossil remnants are discovered. The same would be apparent in the worlds of animals and plants.

fossils discoveries 
Fossils discoveries | Image Credit – Jacqueline Martinez

These fossils are sometimes preserved in the weirdest ways and the rarest settings we can fathom. From the 17th century until the modern-day, several paleontologists dug and discovered these specimens in various geographical regions. 

Understanding how and when the earliest fossils of numerous organisms occurred adds to our acquaintance with the planet’s phylogenetic ladder. Here is our list of the ten crucial prehistoric fossil discoveries. Get ready to get your mind blown!

1. Giant prehistoric turtle

Giant prehistoric turtle
Giant prehistoric turtle | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Evolutionary biologists from North Carolina State University, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the Florida Museum of Natural History have recently documented fossilized remains of creatures from the 60-million-year-old South American giant that once roamed the planet in full glory. 

Carbonemys was given its name when discovered in a coal mining site in northern Colombia’s Cerrejon rock in 2005. The species’ skull is 24 cm long and around the length of a regular football.

Five million years after the dinosaur perished, the enormous version of the turtle appeared. Investigators assert that a combination of ecological processes, such as fewer competitors, an elaborate habitat range, abundant food sources, and climatic change, let these massive creatures thrive.

2. Perfectly preserved rare baby dinosaur fossil 

Paleontologists from the University of Birmingham uncovered an exceptionally unusual intact dinosaur embryo in southern China huddled inside a fossilized egg. The fetus, which is in excellent shape, is thought to be 72 million years old. ‘Baby Yingliang’ is the name given to the dino fetus.

The embryo belonged to a toothless beaked theropod, referred to as oviraptorosaurs. They claim that this is the most flawless dinosaur embryo yet discovered. The embryo has a postural similar to that of birds in the developmental stage. 

3. Fossilized toothed whale

Fossilized toothed whale
Fossilized toothed whale

Scientists are rethinking what they know about current cold-water kin narwhals and belugas because of a newly reported toothed whale that existed 3-4 million years ago during the Pleistocene period. 

Historical remains suggest that these extant marine mammals were not always the cold-water acclimated species. Hence, how and why they developed to survive in northern climates remains uncertain.

A relatively perfect skull of the toothed whale was discovered in a mine in Hampton, Virginia, in the year 1969. Bohaskaia monodontoides was discovered in Virginia’s temperate environment, and Denebola brachycephala, a prehistoric beluga-related toothed whale, was discovered in Baja California. 

According to Velez-Juarbe and Pyenson, the cold-climate modifications of narwhals and belugas, which now solely reside and reproduce in the Arctic and sub-arctic, should have developed lately. 

During or after the Pliocene era, oceanography alterations may have influenced the oceanic food chain, and later conflict or dietary choices may have pushed monodontidae northward.

4. A dinosaur that could swim!

A dinosaur that could swim
A dinosaur that could swim | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

For decades, theories suggested Spinosaurus could swim, but only a few relics could back them up. After World War II, the most intact sample was damaged in an aerial bombardment strike over Germany. 

As per a breakdown issued in the journal Nature in April, an investigation of a 95-million-year-old Spinosaurus tail indicates that the tail was wide and paddle-like, ideal for swimming. Nizar Ibrahim, a paleontologist from the University of Detroit Mercy, informed that this revelation is the nail in the coffin for the assumption that non-avian dinosaurs never inhabited the marine domain. 

Furthermore, this dinosaur wasn’t merely lurking in deep waters awaiting salmon to pass, but it was actively hunting meals in the surrounding water.

5. Stromatolites: The oldest known fossil

The oldest known fossil
The oldest known fossil | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

The world’s oldest fossils unearthed in Greenland were the remains of primitive bacteria colonies established as stromatolites in about 3.7 billion years of ancient rock formations. They are 200 million years older in comparison to the 3.48 billion-year-old fossil stromatolites revealed in northwestern Australia.

Molecular clocks, which measure the pace at which genetic structure mutates, show that lifeforms on Earth originated around 4 billion years ago. Discovering fossils as ancient as the Greenlandic stromatolites suggests that lifeforms began quite quickly, and these would have been the foremost dwellers of the planet.

6. Toothless dinosaurs

Toothless dinosaurs
Toothless dinosaurs | Image Credit – Flickr

In November 2021, a Brazilian research group published a paper in Scientific Reports describing a unique toothless dinosaur. Berthasaura leopoldinae is by far the most intact prehistoric organism of its kind during its era ever unearthed in Brazil. 

Berthasaura was unearthed in 125 million to 100 million-year-old rocks. The creature would have been petite and fast, measuring around 1.5 feet long. Its beak seems to be designed for nipping at vegetation and potentially tiny prey.

Because the first toothless ceratosaur, Limusaurus, was discovered in China, uncovering an utterly distinct one in South America indicates that toothlessness developed at least twice in ceratosaurus.

7. Immortal crab of the cretaceous period

Immortal crab of the cretaceous period
Immortal crab of the cretaceous period | Image Credit – Live Science

A rare species of “immortal” crab encased in resin made headlines in October 2021. The Cretaceous-era fossil is one of the most evident manifestations of a crab living in a freshwater environment. And it might be a connecting element between marine and freshwater crabs.

The distinct species was named Cretaspara athanata by the researchers who spotted it, with “athanata” indicating “immortal,” “Cret-” for the Cretaceous, and “aspara” for the mythological Southeast Asian deities of the clouds and waters. This little crab is only about 2 millimeters and is closely connected to contemporary crabs.

Researchers created a three-dimensional digital reconstruction of the crab using X-ray scanning to investigate its biochemistry further. They were taken aback by how effectively the resin had maintained the crab in the resin.

8. 68 million years old snakes and baby dinosaur

The vast, long-necked sauropods, unlike certain dinosaurs, were unconcerned with their babies. Sauropod babies appear to have had to fight for themselves from the beginning, as parents have never been seen near nesting. As a result, carnivores were free to chow down on the babies as they popped up.

As shown by records, Sanajeh indicus, a 3.5-meter-long snake, was one of the attackers. One opted to invade a hatchling of sauropod eggs near the end of the dinosaur era, probably lured by the sound of baby dinos breaking free from their eggshell.

Sanajehs, unlike other snakes, could not stretch their mouth. Hence, the snake wrapped around the eggs, waiting for the babies to get out. Meanwhile, a landslide crushed the nesting snake and the hatchlings just as it was ready to feast on half-meter-long newborns. 

Dhananjay Mohabey from the Geological Society of India discovered the remnants in Gujarat in 1986.

9. Deinonychus: Terrible claw with a counterbalance

Dinosaur fossil on rough stone formation
Dinosaur fossil on rough stone formation | Image Credit – Marcus Lange

John Ostrom, a young paleontology professor from Yale University, was investigating the plains of Montana in search of dinosaur remains in the mid-1960s. 

And what he discovered revolutionized our knowledge concerning dinosaurs, physiology, and behavior profoundly. Ostrom uncovered the fragmented bones of a medium-sized killer dinosaur, Deinonychus antirrhopus, also famous as a “terrible claw with a counterbalance.”

This species was a quick, incredibly smart, and keen-sighted carnivore. He also demonstrated that its morphology was strikingly similar to that of birds, implying that birds and small hunting dinosaurs were so comparable that birds most likely evolved from dinosaurs. (Also read – 10 Most Dangerous Dinosaurs Species)

10. The world’s first flowering plant: 130 million years

Montsechia
Montsechia | Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Orchids and roses usually come to mind when we think of an ideal flowering plant or anything with beautiful petals.  

But biologically speaking, the angiosperms are distinguished because they encapsulate their seeds inside fruiting spaces, as their title implies. And, despite the lack of visible petals, Montsechia is regarded as one of the first flowering plants to originate on Earth.

According to scientists, the earliest illustration of a flowering plant is a 130 million-year-old remnant of a flower that flourished in marshes. Montsechia vidalii was once common in freshwater bodies, which are now mountain ranges of Spain.

Now, the specimen of Montsechia vidalii has knocked out Archaefructus sinensis, an aquatic plant in China. Archaefructus might lose the title of “oldest flower” due to a recent reassessment of a plant specimen unearthed more than a century ago in Spain. 

Montsechia vidalii was indeed a weed-like species that thrived in the deep waters of Europe’s lakes, entirely buried. It was probably much older than Archaefructus, as evidenced by its remnants dating from 130 to 125 million years ago.

The modest Montsechia resembled current cottontails or hornworts frequently adorned as pond and aquarium decorations. 

Paleobotanists are now hunting for signs to connect Montsechia and Archaefructus in the angiosperm evolutionary path and new artifacts to help comprehend how the handful, small seed-bearing vegetation led directly to all of the gorgeous blossoms of present times.

To Conclude

Finally, there’s proof of a technically sophisticated species, humans! The earliest known remains of Homo sapiens, the group that apparently were the progenitors of Homo sapiens, are Omo I and Omo II.

The skeletal remains were considered to be 130,000 years old when they were unearthed in Ethiopia in 1967. However, in 2005, experts moved the date of the skeletons back to 195,000 years after reexamining the dating of the sediments in which they were discovered, earning them the status of the earliest Homo sapiens specimens for the time being.

The fossil evidence and the catalog of record-holders like toothless dinosaurs and immortal crabs will continue to advance as time passes.

Thankfully, we have an excellent piece of truth about the ancient biosphere owing to fossilized artifacts, which provide substantial proof for our vision of life on the planet. 

Although specimens are exceptional and spectacular, not all are particularly well-known or seem to have the same significant impact on evolutionary biology and our experience of reality.

(Last Updated on May 29, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!