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Estonia: ‘Oldest eye ever discovered’ in 530-million-year-old fossil

Estonia: ‘Oldest eye ever discovered’ in 530-million-year-old fossil

Estonia became a place for the archaeological sensation: the scientists have found the oldest eye ever discovered in a 530-million-year-old fossil, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal reports.

An Estonian artefact made a lot of noise among the European scientists, its remains of the extinct sea creature include the early form of an eye, which is seen in many animals that exist today. According to the archaeologists, such an eye had even bees and dragonflies. The unbelievable fossil was examined by the international team of researchers who called a trilobite unearthed in Estonia a lucky finding.

Trilobites, hard-shelled ancestors of crabs and spiders, lived in coastal waters during the Palaeozoic era between 541-251 million years ago.

Scientists discovered the species, called Schmidtiellus reetae, had a primitive form of a compound eye, an optical organ consisting of tiny visual cells called ommatidia.

“This exceptional fossil shows us how early animals saw the world around them hundreds of millions of years ago,”

said Professor Euan Clarkson, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences who was part of the research team.

The examination of the Estonian 530-million-year-old fossil: no lens

The scientists stressed that the Estonian fossil reveals that the structure and function of a compound have barely changed in half a billion years. Probably, the species likely had poor vision compared to many modern animals, but it could still identify approaching predators, researchers said.

Its eye consists of approximately 100 ommatidia, which are situated relatively far apart compared to contemporary compounds eyes, they added. An interesting fact – trilobite’s eye does not have a lens, unlike modern compound eyes, because the species lacked parts of the shell needed to form one.

“Older specimens in sediment layers below this fossil contain only traces of the original animals, which were too soft to be fossilised and have disintegrated over time,”

the researchers concluded.