World’s oldest fossilised turtle discovered: Enormous specimen is at least 25 million years older than previous record holder
- Almost completely preserved skeleton from Cretaceous period measured more than six and a half feet (two metres) long
- Sea turtles descended from terrestrial and freshwater turtles that arose approximately 230 million years ago
The world’s oldest fossilised turtle, dating back at least 120 million years, has been discovered.
It is thought to be 25 million years older than the previously known oldest specimen.
The almost completely preserved skeleton from the Cretaceous period measured more than six and a half feet (two metres) long and would have looked remarkably similar to a modern marine turtles.
Until now the oldest known turtle specimen was Santanachelys gaffneyi, which was discovered in Brazil in 2008.
This species differed from modern turtles in that it had distinguishable digits at the tip of its forearms.
‘We have described a fossil sea turtle from Colombia that is about 25 million years older,’ said Dr Edwin Cadena, a scholar of the Alexander von Humboldt foundation at the Senckenberg Research Institute.
Dr Cadena made the unusual discovery together with his colleague J. Parham of California State University, Fullerton.
‘The turtle described by us as Desmatochelys padillai sp. originates from Cretaceous sediments and is at least 120 million years old,’ says Dr Cadena.
Sea turtles descended from terrestrial and freshwater turtles that arose approximately 230 million years ago. During the Cretaceous period, they split into land and sea dwellers.
Until now the oldest known turtle specimen was thought to be Santanachelys gaffneyi (artist’s illustration pictured). This species differed from modern turtles in that it had digits at the tip of its forearms
The fossilised turtle is related to modern turtles that dwell in tropical and subtropical oceans, including species such as the modern Hawksbill Turtle and the Green Sea Turtle (pictured)
Fossil evidence from this time period is very sparse however, and the exact time of the split is difficult to verify.
MILLION-YEAR-OLD MONKEY DISCOVERED
Scientists have dated the fossilised remains of an extinct monkey found in an underwater cave in the Caribbean.
Researchers discovered a shin bone belonging to the Hispaniola monkey in the Altagracia Province, Dominican Republic, in 2009.
The remains of Antillothrix bernensis were embedded in limestone rock and dated using the Uranium-series technique.
The Hispaniola monkey is thought to have gone extinct in the 16th century.
The exact cause of the extinction is unclear, but it was probably related to the settlement of Hispaniola – now known as the Dominican Republic – by Europeans in 1492 after its discovery by Christopher Columbus.
Scientists found that the creature’s morphology or body shape had not changed much over the million or so years it had been in existence.
‘This lends a special importance to every fossil discovery that can contribute to clarifying the phylogeny of the sea turtles,’ explained the Dr Cadena.
The fossilised turtle shells and bones come from two sites near the community of Villa de Leyva in Colombia.
The fossilized remains of the ancient reptiles were discovered and collected by hobby paleontologist Mary Luz Parra and her brothers Juan and Freddy Parra in the year 2007.
Since then, they have been stored in the collections of the ‘Centro de Investigaciones Paleontológicas’ in Villa Leyva and the ‘University of California Museum of Paleontology.’
Dr Cadena and his colleague examined the almost complete skeleton, four additional skulls and two partially preserved shells, and placed the fossils in the turtle group Chelonioidea, based on various morphological characteristics.
Turtles in this group dwell in tropical and subtropical oceans; among their representatives are the modern Hawksbill Turtle and the Green Sea Turtle of turtle soup fame.
‘Based on the animals’ morphology and the sediments they were found in, we are certain that we are indeed dealing with the oldest known fossil sea turtle,’ adds Cadena in summary.
The study was published in the scientific journal PaleoBios.