Namibia fossils, Otavia antiqua, are “world’s first animals,” scientists say

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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