Archaeology breakthrough: ‘Extraordinary squid like’ creature discovered in bombshell find

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The fossil, thought to be 200million years old, is believed to be one of the oldest of its kind and is showing the creature mid-assault. Scientists from the University of Portsmouth came across the fossil while sifting through ancient sites on the southern coast. A species of cephalopod called Clarkeiteuthis montefiorei was found and is an ancestor of the present day squid.

Locked in its jaws appears to be a herring-like fish called Dorsetichthys bechei.

Researchers say the cephalopod’s position, whose arms run alongside the body of the fish, suggests it was attempting to feed on the creature.

The fossil offers a rare glimpse of history – an ancient predator attacking its prey – preserved in time.

Predation events like the one discovered only surface occasionally on the archaeological record.

Lead author, Professor Malcolm Hart, emeritus professor at Plymouth, describes the specimen as “a most unusual if not extraordinary fossil”.

In a statement, he said: “It points to a particularly violent attack which ultimately appears to have caused the death, and subsequent preservation, of both animals.”

Speaking to Newsweek, Prof Hart emphasised how monumental a discovery it was for him and his team.

He explained: “This seems to be the earliest example of squid-fish predation, and had been in the collections in London, then Keyworth, since the 1870s.”

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He described the find as “fortuitous”.

He said: “I was going through some new material in a private collection, and was told that this specimen was on loan to Lyme Regis Museum.

“I recognised it immediately for what was there—the ink sack of the squid—and the fish being held by the arms of the squid. The previous week I had been looking at a paper that mentioned the ‘oldest’ known example of such predation—and here I was looking at something a few millions of years older.”

He added: “To see a daily event (from) 190 million years ago just seems fascinating.”

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Prof Hart suspects the fossil to be the oldest of its kind.

It dates back to the Sinemurian period 190million to 199million years ago.

If his suspicions are confirmed, it makes the fossil at least 10million years older than other cephalopod fossils in attack mode.

The fossil in question was discovered on the Jurassic coast back in the late 19th century.

Important to the Mesozoic Era (250 to 65 million years ago), the area is a 95-mile stretch of coastline and has been given UNESCO world heritage protection.

The region is also vital in the study of relics, as well as being a goldmine of dinosaur bones and the remains of Jurassic-era mammals and sea life.

Thomas Clements, from the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham, U.K., who was not involved in the research, told the publication: “This fossil has been in the collections of the British Geological Society for a long time—I remember seeing this fossil when working on my undergraduate degree thesis.

“The fossil itself is wonderful but beyond that this paper does not add much to our current understanding.

“Fossils that show the interaction between predators and prey are very rare— but other examples of this exact species of belemnoid having captured fish during the last moments of their life are known and written about in the literature.

“The fossil does show that potentially, some belemnoid cephalopods had eyes too big for their belly!”

Several hypotheses have been floated as to how the cephalopod and fish ended up etched in time the way they have.

The first is that the fish got stuck in the cephalopod’s jaws, the creatures sinking to the ocean’s floor and dying.

The second is that the cephalopod deliberately took its prey to the seafloor to escape the attention of another predator but inadvertently stumbled into waters with low levels of oxygen and suffocated as a result, before being preserved.

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