The Dickinsonia marine fossil, discovered by the White Sea, contained cholesterol, revealing it was the earliest animal life ever found.

The first animal and the earliest art found

2018 has been a particularly good year for revealing archaeological 'firsts' and 'earliests'. Perhaps the most significant is the apparent identification of the world's first animal life, which puts back the date of its appearance on Earth by around 100 million years.

Symmetrical, oval shaped and growing to more than a metre, Dickinsonia marine fossils from the Ediacaran era have been known about since the first were identified in South Australia in 1947. But in 2016, Ilya Bobrovskiy, a graduate student at the Australian National University, found a specimen at Lyamtsa in the icy wastes of the White Sea in Russia that had been mummified in a mix of clay and sandstone. When they came to analyse it, Bobrovskiy and a research team from the university discovered cholesterol fat molecules.

'The fossil fat molecules that we have found prove that animals were large and abundant 558 million years ago, millions of years earlier than previously thought,' said Jochen Brocks, who led the research. thatThe clock was put back on the story of Man, too, when, two months earlier, stone tools found in China apparently showed evidence of human migration 2.1 million years ago. The research team was led by the archaeologist Zhaoyu Zhu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which had been working on the on the Loess Plateau in northwest China. It is less than 20 years since the first evidence of hominids outside Africa was found in a cave in Dmanasi, south Georgia. The Chinese communities existed 3,500 miles further east, 250,000 years earlier.

Though early man set about making tools, it was a little later that drawing began appearing on rocks. In 2012 cave paintings in Spain were dated to 64,000 years ago, suggesting that they must have been made by Neanderthal man, as modern humans did not arrive in Europe until 20,000 years later.

In September this year another re-think was required with the discovery of what is described as the oldest known drawing: a cross-hatched pattern in ochre. This has been found in the Blombos Cave in South Africa by archaeologists from the University of Bergen, and is 9,000 years earlier than those in Spain, dating back 73,000 years.

Early drawing and painting made their colour from and chlorophyll fossils show the first evidence of colour pigments. The Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University recently found fossils preserved in rocks under the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, West Africa, that date back to about 1.1 billion years ago, 600 million years older than previously thought. They also showed that the plant world had a pinkish tint.
Roger Williams