A Fish With A Human Face? Entelognathus Primordialis, A Prehistoric Fish, Had A Jaw And Cheek Bones Just Like Modern Vertebrates

By Philip Ross on September 27, 2013 11:07 AM EDT

fish
A prehistoric fish with a human-like face (not pictured) roamed the seas over 400 million years ago. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Helen of Troy's face may have launched a thousand ships, but the face of a prehistoric fish is causing scientists to rethink human evolution. Researchers found the earliest creature to have had a face like humans, and the discovery is challenging age-old theories of how vertebrates' faces evolved. Its name is Entelognathus primordialis, or "primordial complete-jaw," because the 420-million-year-old fish has features akin to Kate Moss - prominent cheekbones and a defined jaw.

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While the prehistoric fish is arguably more beady-eyed than Moss, its similarity to the human countenance is undeniable, according to researchers. Ninety-nine percent of all vertebrates, or about 60,000 of them, belong to the group of jawed vertebrates known as gnathostomes. According to USA Today, Entelognathus had the same complex jaw bone structure, made from multiple bony plates, just like the jaws of humans, dogs, and thousands of other modern vertebrates.

"The new fossil ... has a distinctive three-bone system still used by chewing vertebrates today: a lower jawbone called the dentary and two upper jaw bones called the premaxilla (holding the front teeth) and the maxilla (holding the canine and cheek teeth)," National Geographic reports.

"This is like finding the nose of a space shuttle in a hay wagon from the Middle Ages," paleontologist Xiaobo Yu of Kean University in New Jersey, one of the researchers responsible for the new find, told USA Today.

Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology uncovered the first Entelognathus at Xiaoxiang Reservoir in Quijing, a city in eastern Yunnann province, in 2010. It was found in an ancient seabed known as the Kuanti Formation, which originated in the SIlurian, a geologic period that extends from about 443 million years ago to about 419 million years ago. It was during this time that the first life began to appear on land in the form of omss-like vascular plants which grew along the shores of ancient lakes, streams and coastlines.

According to Discovery News, when the fish with the face was first found, researchers didn't think much of it. It wasn't until they brought it to the lab, chipped away the material surrounding it, cleaned it up and took a good look at it that they realized what they'd stumbled upon.

According to Huffington Post, Entelognathus was about 8 inches long and had an armored body and scaly tail. Its eyes were small and set inside large "bony goggles." It was also toothless.

The discovery of the prehistoric fish face is detailed in the Sept. 25 issue of Nature. The new research provides reason to explore further the relationship between fish and our own family tree.

"Basically, as terrestrial vertebrates, we are a kind of very specialized, very bizarre fish that about 370 million years ago went on land and lost its fins," Matt Friedman, a University of Oxford paleobiologist, told National Geographic. "Understanding the origin of bony fishes is inextricably linked to understanding our own origins because we're bony fishes."

Read more from iScience Times:

'Walking Whale' Fossil Discovered In Peru: 40-Million-Year-Old Specimen May Be Link Between Aquatic and Land Mammals

Legless Lizards Discovered In California: How Do They Differ From Snakes?

Insect Mechanical Gears Discovered In Nature: How Are Organic Gears Used? [PHOTO, VIDEO]

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