The image above shows Saccorhytus, a microscopic animal, which lived about 540 million years ago — and researchers think it could be the earliest known prehistoric ancestor of humans.
The tiny sea creature, which measures just 1mm in size, has been named Saccorhytus after the sack-like features created by its elliptical body and large mouth. It is new to science and was identified from microfossils found in China.
If the conclusions of a new study, published in the journal Nature, are correct, then Saccorhytus was the common ancestor of a huge range of species, and the earliest step yet discovered on the evolutionary path that eventually led to humans, hundreds of millions of years later.
It’s thought that Saccorhytus probably lived between grains of sand on the seabed. Its features were spectacularly preserved in the fossil record — and intriguingly, the researchers were unable to find any evidence that the animal had an anus.
The study was carried out by an international team of academics, including researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK and Northwest University in Xi’an China, with support from other colleagues at institutions in China and Germany.