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Namibia fossils, Otavia antiqua, are "world's first animals," scientists say

Scientists discovered sponge-like fossils of Otavia antiqua, said to be the world's first animal, at Etosha National Park in northern Namibia in rocks between 760 and 550 million years old.

Namibia fossils first animals 2012 02 06Enlarge
A wild oryx in the Etosha National Park in northern Namibia. Etosha (literally 'the great void') refers to the shallow depression of some 5,000 square kilometres, covering around a quarter of the park, that was once a lake but now only fills up with water during a good rainy season. Scientists digging in Etosha park have uncovered fossils they say are the first animals. (BRIGITTE WEIDLICH/AFP/Getty Images)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Scientists have discovered fossils in Namibia that they say are the world's first animals.

The sponge-like fossils dubbed Otavia antiqua were found at Etosha National Park in northern Namibia and at other sites in the southern African country, a team of international researchers said in an article published in the South African Journal of Science.

Otavia antiqua is said to be a tiny creature that lived in the world's earliest oceans, surviving in low-oxygen conditions.

While animal life was previously thought to have emerged 600 million to 650 million years ago, these fossils were discovered in rocks dated to between 760 million and 550 million years ago, researchers said.

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Anthony Prave, a co-author of the paper from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, told Johannesburg's Star newspaper that Otavia would have lived in quiet water settings, preying on algae and bacteria.

South African paleontologist C.K. "Bob" Brain, who spent 15 years researching in the Namibian desert, told the Star that he wanted to find the origins of predation.

He said that what started with Otavia led to humans dominating the planet.

The discovery is "extremely significant, as these organisms represent the earliest record of metazoan life," placing the origins of animals at 100 million years to 150 million years earlier than previously accepted, wrote Robert Gess from South Africa's Wits University, in a separate article published in the journal.

"The rocks of southern Africa have yet again yielded up key evidence regarding the history of life," Gess wrote.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/120206/namibia-fossils-first-animals-otavia-antiqua-etosha-national-park