The earliest human ancestor to be discovered so far has been found in China.  Fossilised traces of the 540 million-year-old creature have been found in a remarkably well-preserved condition.

The fossil is a microscopic sea animal and it is the earliest known step on the evolutionary path.  This creature led to fish and eventually humanity.

The research team that discovered Saccorhytus has classed it as “deuterostomes”.  These creatures are a common ancestor to a range of creatures including vertebrates or backboned animals.

Lived Between Grains of Sand

Saccorhytus is thought to be about millimetre inside and lived in between grains of sand on the seabed.  There is no evidence of an anus so scientists have concluded that it consumed food and excreted from the same orifice.

The international research team comprised of researchers from Britain, China, and Germany.  Professor Simon Conway Morris based at the University of Cambridge said, “To the naked eye, the fossils we studied look like tiny black grains, but under the microscope the level of detail as jaw-dropping.

“We think that as an early deuterostome this may represent the primitive beginnings of a very diverse range of species, including ourselves. All deuterostomes had a common ancestor, and we think that is what we are looking at here.”

This is the oldest discovery of deuterostomes found so far.  Before this, the oldest found was around 520 million years old.  By this time the deuterostomes had already begun to diversify into other creatures such as sea urchins and starfish as well vertebrates.

At this point they look very difficult from one another so scientists were unable to determine what a common ancestor would look like.

The study into Saccorhytus shows it had symmetrical features and was covered in skin and muscles.  It is believed it would have propelled itself by wiggling.  The symmetry of the features is something we share with our very distant ancestor.