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Oldest land-dwelling fossil found on Gotland

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Oldest land-dwelling fossil found on Gotland
Filaments of the Totortubos fungus. Photo: Martin R Smith
11:58 CET+01:00
It may sound like a load of old rot, but this fossilised fungus discovered on the Swedish island of Gotland is believed to be the world's oldest fossil of any land-dwelling organism.

Nowadays, the picturesque Baltic sea island is home to thousands of Gotlanders and hosts a number of summer tourist events as well as Sweden's biggest political festival.

But a group of scientists have discovered groundbreaking evidence suggesting that this is where one of the vital rotting processes laying the foundation for the development of life began.

The above picture of a 440-million-year-old 'tortotubus' fungus first published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society is believed to be the earliest example yet found of an organism living on land.

They may not look too impressive, but fungi played a key role in life moving from sea to land 450-500 million years ago, by kick-starting the rotting process and building up a layer of fertile soil, which enabled plants and in turn animal life to develop and survive.

"During the period when this organism existed, life was almost entirely restricted to the oceans: nothing more complex than simple mossy and lichen-like plants had yet evolved on the land," Dr Martin Smith, who conducted the work while based at the University of Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences, said.

"But before there could be flowering plants or trees, or the animals that depend on them, the processes of rot and soil formation needed to be established," he added.


The island of Fårö north of Gotland. Photo:  Tuukka Ervasti/imagebank.sweden.se

It is not the first time Gotland has grabbed headlines for ancient finds. The island is a popular spot for archaeology buffs, with plenty of fossils located along its limestone coastline.

One of the island's biggest discoveries ever, a Viking treasure consisting of 1,000 silver coins, was found by two brothers accidentally stumbling upon it when clearing bushes for a neighbour back in 2007.

And Gotland once again made the news after more than 600 silver coins, jewellery and part of an ancient axe from the 12th century were unearthed five years later. 

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