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Dickinsonia: Earliest Known Living Animal

  • 15 Feb 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Recently, researchers have discovered three fossils of the earliest known living animal, the 550-million-year-old ‘Dickinsonia’ on the roof of the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters.

  • The fossils were found in the roof of the Auditorium Cave at Bhimbetka Rock Shelters.


  • It was believed that sponges were the oldest living organism however there is currently no evidence that sponge-like animals conquered the oceans before 540 million years ago, when the first unambiguous fossils of sponges and most other groups of animals start to appear in the geological record.
  • The earliest evidence for animals on Earth is now the 558 million-years-old Dickinsonia and other Ediacaran animals.

Key Points

  • About Dickinsonia:
    • Discovery:
    • Period and Area:
      • It is an extinct genus of basal animal that lived during the late Ediacaran period in what is now Australia, Russia and Ukraine.
        • Basal animals are animals which have radial symmetry in their body plans. They have very simple bodies and tend to be diploblastic (derived from only two embryonic cell layers).
    • Appearance:
      • Thought to represent the earliest flowering of complex multicellular life on our planet, these creatures arose in a world devoid of predators, and had no need for hard protective carapaces or skeletons.
        • Their soft, squishy bodies resembled tubes, fronds or even thin, quilted pillows, they bore scant similarity to the anatomy of animals today.
    • Classification:
      • Its affinities are presently unknown, its mode of growth is consistent with a stem-group bilaterian affinity, though some have suggested that it belongs to the fungi or even an “extinct kingdom”.
      • The discovery of cholesterol molecules in fossils of Dickinsonia lends support to the idea that Dickinsonia was an animal.
  • Significance:
    • It is further proof of the similar paleoenvironments and confirms assembly of Gondwanaland by the 550 Ma (mega annum).
      • A paleoenvironment is simply an environment that has been preserved in the rock record at some time in the past.
      • Mega-annum, usually abbreviated as Ma, is a unit of time equal to one million years.
        • It is commonly used in scientific disciplines such as geology, paleontology, and celestial mechanics to signify very long time periods in the past.
    • This finding could help scientists better understand the interaction of geology and biology that triggered the evolution of complex life on Earth.
  • Bhimbetka Caves:
    • History and Period Span:
      • The Bhimbetka rock shelters are an archaeological site in central India that spans the prehistoric Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods, as well as the historic period.
      • It exhibits the earliest traces of human life in India and evidence of Stone Age starting at the site in Acheulian times.
      • It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that consists of seven hills and over 750 rock shelters distributed over 10 km.
    • Discovery:
      • The Bhimbetka rock shelters were found by V S Wakankar in1957.
    • Location:
      • It is located in Raisen District between Hoshangabad and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
        • It is about 40 kilometres south-east of Bhopal in the foothills of the Vindhya Mountains.
    • Paintings:
      • Some of the Bhimbetka rock shelters feature prehistoric cave paintings and the earliest are about 10,000 years old (c. 8,000 BCE), corresponding to the Indian Mesolithic.
      • Most of these are done in red and white on the cave walls.
      • A multitude of themes were covered in this form of rock art and it depicted scenes like singing, dancing, hunting and other common activities of the people staying there.
        • The oldest of the cave paintings in Bhimbetka is believed to be about 12,000 years ago.


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