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India’s Only Known Fossil of the World’s Oldest Animal Ever Discovered in Bhimbetka Caves

A visitor points to a prehistoric cave painting in Bhimbetka. UNESCO has declared the caves of Bhimbetka as a world heritage. (Image for representation/ REUTERS)

A visitor points to a prehistoric cave painting in Bhimbetka. UNESCO has declared the caves of Bhimbetka as a world heritage. (Image for representation/ REUTERS)

The Dickinsonia is considered to be key between simple organisms about 541 million years ago and the explosion of life that followed in the Cambrian period.

In an exciting new discovery, archaeologists have discovered signs of life in popular historical site of Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh from 570 million years ago. Upon preliminary examination and dating, the fossils discovered could be the 'first-ever fossil of India’ as well as ‘Earth’s oldest animal'.

The fossil should have been found sooner as it was on the roof of one of the caves knows as the Auditorium Cave. The fossil known as Dickinsonia is 17 inches long and holds answers about evolution of life.

Though such animals could even be 4-feet tall at times, due to its comparatively smaller size, the fossil was discovered almost by accident. It wasn’t a professional search but simply a leisurely tour by two members of Geological Survey of India (GSI) at rock shelters known to be at least 10,000 years old. There, they spotted a leaf life impression on the roof’s surface, which was almost camouflaging with its surroundings. Most tourists would take it to be a prehistoric artwork as the site is famous for ancient cave paintings.

However, the Dickinsonia is considered to be key between simple organisms about 541 million years ago and the explosion of life that followed in the Cambrian period.

According to the paper published on this discovery, it suggests that the Gondwanaland assembly took place 550 million years ago. Dickinsonia, mostly discovered from the Ediacaran period in regions of Australia, is a temperate to subtropical latitudes dweller. “I have seen the picture on social media. It is on a deposit on sedimentary rock. A paleobotanist could determine its genesis,” said S B Ota, retired ASI joint director general.

Bhimbetka, found in the Vindhya hills, is a UNESCO heritage site. According to Ota, the reason this discovery slipped for so long is because, “ASI deals in geologic time scale, quaternary period, that began 2.6 million years ago and extends into the present. Anything before the beginnings of human evolution is not covered.”