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World's oldest turtle fossil could bridge evolutionary gap

Friday, October 19, 2012 - 02:32

Oct. 19 - Polish paleontologists have uncovered what they believe to be the world's oldest turtle fossil in the southern city of Poreba. They've also found what they suspect is a separate turtle species, previously unknown and hope that subsequent examination will help solve unanswered questions about the animals' evolution. Jim Drury reports.

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The paleontologists who found it say it's the oldest turtle fossil ever discovered. Belonging to a species called the Proterochersis robusta, it roamed the Earth at the same time as the dinosaurs. UPSOT: DRILLING After cutting through the debris, Doctor Tomasz Sulej hopes to reveal answers to important questions about the turtle's evolution, fleshing out what they already know. UPSOT: DRILLING SOUNDBITE (English) PALAEONTOLOGIST, DOCTOR TOMASZ SULEJ SAYING: "We date it as two hundred and fifteen million years ago. And we know it because in the rock, in the sediments, people from another institute found palynomorphs very characteristic of the Norian age....a period when the dinosaurs began living in the world." The team also discovered a second set of remains in southern Poland, which they believe belong to a previously unknown species. Both discoveries could be of evolutionary significance, helping bridge the gap between primitive reptiles and turtles. SOUNDBITE (English) PALAEONTOLOGIST, DOCTOR TOMASZ SULEJ SAYING: "In studying the evolution of the turtle we still don't know from which group of animals they derived. The animal which is probably the intermediate between the reptiles, the primitive reptiles and turtles was found in China." Barbara Slodkowska is a celebrated Polish palynologist. She's helped date various findings by studying sediment in Poreba town's fossil-rich soil and says pollen analysis is crucial to understanding both recent finds. (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) PALYNOLOGIST AT POLISH GEOLOGICAL INSTITUTE, BARBARA SLODKOWSKA SAYING: "There is one specific feature of the pollen. When the remains of something like this turtle end up in a basin of water the sludge will build up around the remains. So the only way this type of pollen record can be preserved is in water. The pollen cannot be exposed to oxygen or it will start to disintegrate. This is why these fossils must have been covered in some kind of water basin." Sulej and his colleagues hope their analysis can pinpoint the moment at which turtles developed from their primitive cousins. And with more digging their hoping for more discoveries.

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World's oldest turtle fossil could bridge evolutionary gap

Friday, October 19, 2012 - 02:32