This Ancient ‚Mass Death‘ Offers a Glimpse Into Early Tetrapod Life on Land


A diagram showing the tetrapod humerus (left) and the growth rings the synchrotron revealed inside of it, indicated by arrows (right). Image: Sophie Sanchez
A diagram showing the tetrapod humerus (left) and the growth rings the synchrotron revealed inside of it, indicated by arrows (right). Image: Sophie Sanchez
The history of life on Earth is filled with tales of intrepid organisms that broke into new territories and niches to secure an evolutionary edge.

By Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

One of the most dramatic examples is the colonization of land by aquatic tetrapods, a giant leap that enabled the emergence of countless species, including humans. Given that we owe our very existence to this bold move, scientists have long been fascinated by how our tetrapod ancestors pushed out of the sea to become “part of that world,” to channel The Little Mermaid.

Research published Wednesday in Nature sheds new light on this pivotal transition. A team led by Sophie Sanchez, an evolutionary biologist based at Uppsala University in Sweden, studied the remains of at least 20 individuals from the early Acanthostega tetrapod clan, preserved in what scientists called a “mass-death deposit,” discovered in Greenland.

Dating back 365 million years to the Devonian epoch, this group was likely swept away by a sudden flooding event that left them stranded the in isolated pools. These temporary safe havens eventually dried up, killing the exposed animals en masse.

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