10 Impressive Fossils Discovered in 2022

Fossilization needs a long period of time to mineralize and harden the tissues.
10 Impressive Fossils Discovered in 2022
Cesar Paul Gonzalez Gonzalez

Written and verified by the biologist Cesar Paul Gonzalez Gonzalez.

Last update: 07 February, 2023

Fossils are preserved remains of living beings that inhabited the earth thousands of years ago. Contrary to what one might think, dinosaurs aren’t the only ones that leave this type of remains. With the right environment and conditions, it’s possible to preserve almost any type of animal or plant in the form of fossil remains. Read on and discover some of the most impressive fossils discovered in 2022.

Where can fossils be found?

The fossilization process requires precise conditions to preserve the most important animal tissues. This is why it isn’t possible to find fossilized remains just anywhere.

Fossilization of biological remains takes place through a set of physical and chemical changes in the environment. To initiate the process, the accumulation of sediments on the body of the animals (or plants) is required, which to a certain extent prevents their decomposition. This is followed by a series of chemical reactions that mineralize (harden) and preserve the tissues.

This process is quite slow and takes thousands of years to create the fossils we know today. Of course, the passage of time causes the remains to become compacted and buried under the “new” soil that forms, which is a fundamental part of fossilization.

Without the right amount of minerals in the soil, it’s impossible to fossilize the remains. This is the main reason why fossils can’t be found everywhere. Despite this, paleontological sites are occasionally discovered where the edaphic and environmental conditions are suitable for the preservation of the remains.

Most impressive fossils discovered in 2022

Most paleontological sites are discovered by accident due to different excavations. Although sometimes many fossils are found at one site, they aren’t always that impressive or new. However, some impressive fossils were found in 2022, including the following.

1. The oldest known brain

Soft tissues such as the brain or internal organs are one of the most difficult to fossilize, as the process of decomposition destroys them very quickly. However, in November 2022, a group of scientists discovered the remains of the central nervous system of an ancient marine worm (Cardiodictyon catenulum).

It should be noted that the fossil analyzed wasn’t discovered recently, but was a specimen obtained in 1984. At that time it wasn’t expected that the brain of the worm would be preserved, as the remains were estimated to be between 550 and 480 million years old.

Fossil of a worm.

Against all expectations, the new group of researchers found both the brain and a large part of the nervous system in good condition. The result of the analysis of these components caused a furor in the scientific community, since it answered and clarified several doubts that existed about the evolution of arthropods.

2. European giant sea turtle (Leviathanochelys aenigmatica)

Among all the current species of sea turtles, there is none that exceeds 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length. That’s why it’s impressive to find the fossil remains of a specimen that exceeds 3.5 meters (11.5 feet). The scientific name of this new species is Leviathanochelys aenigmatica, it was discovered in northeastern Spain and is about 80 million years old.

So far, the largest known turtle is the extinct Archelon ischyros, which used to inhabit the waters of North America. It measured about 4.6 meters (15 feet) in length and is estimated to have lived in the Cretaceous period (75 to 65 million years ago).

3. A group of fossilized drowned frogs

In Germany, there’s an important paleontological site called Geiseltal that harbors many impressive fossils of ancient frogs (from 45 million years ago). Although it seems contradictory, the remains of these amphibians show no signs of serious injuries to explain their death. However, their abundance indicates that there was an event that killed them in a short period of time.

Frog fossil.

This group of frogs (almost 150 specimens) was discovered between 1930 and 1970, but specialists were unable to unravel the mystery of their death. It wasn’t until 2022 that some researchers carried out a more exhaustive study of the fossils, which provided an interesting answer to explain the phenomenon.

Amphibians (current and ancient) perform their fertilization externally in the water, so they need to be near or on top of their partner when they release their eggs. Due to competition, the males tend to crowd around the females to try to fertilize the eggs, which can become dangerous and even cause them to drown.

Although it seems a strange fact, the most likely explanation arrived at by the specialists is that this group of frogs went through a similar phenomenon. During their mating, the sheer number of males caused the females to drown and their bodies settled to the bottom of the body of water.

4. Last European panda

The giant panda  (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is a flagship species found only in China. It’s the only living Ursid of the subfamily Ailuropodinae, which means that it has no close relatives with similar characteristics around the world.

Giant panda.

In 2022, a group of researchers discovered the dental fossil remains of an unknown Ursid in Bulgaria, with an age of about 10 million years. Thanks to their analysis, they classified this new species as Agriarctos nikolovi, an ancestor of today’s giant panda. This implies that it’s the last panda that lived in Europe before it was restricted to Asia.

5. Shark-like spiny fish

In 2022, the remains of a rare shark-like fish with spines on its fins and a bony dermal exoskeleton were discovered in China. The scientific name of this new and peculiar species is Fanjingshania renovata whose fossil is estimated to be about 439 million years old.

This specimen belongs to the class Acanthodii, a group of extinct fish also known as spiny dogfish. Its physical characteristics combine aspects of both chondrichthyans (cartilaginous fishes) and osteichthyans (bony fishes). They look quite bizarre, a truly incredible specimen.

Spiny shark.

Contrary to what you might think, acanthodians aren’t the direct ancestors of today’s fishes, but are an independent group that shares the same common ancestor. This explains why it shares some physical characteristics with chondrichthyans and osteichthyans.

6. 3D reconstruction of Jurassic salamander

In 1970, a group of researchers collected a limestone sample from which the remains of a bone were protruding. Although it was clear that it was a fossil, more importance was given to other specimens. So, it was stored for later analysis, but over the years it was ignored and almost forgotten about.

Between 2016 and 2019, several specialists recovered fragments of what appeared to be a new amphibian species from the same area (Skye Island). However, they didn’t have larger or more complete remains that would allow them to reconstruct its appearance. It was at this point that they turned to the fossils in storage to complement the research.

When analyzing the limestone from more than 50 years ago, they realized that the fossil remains corresponded to the same species and were better preserved. Therefore, they decided to make a 3D model to digitally reconstruct its appearance and identify the new species.

The physical form of this amphibian, called Mamorerpeton wakei, largely resembles that of a salamander. It’s estimated to have appeared in the Jurassic period, almost 166 million years ago. It therefore belongs to the basal species of the group, which helps us to gain a broader perspective about the complicated evolutionary history of amphibians.

7. The oldest flowering plant

Flowering plants, also known as angiosperms, are a group characterized by seed-bearing fruits and easy dispersal. It’s estimated that they appeared in the Cretaceous period, but there are many questions about this because their diversification time doesn’t match.

Most of the ancient fossils of angiosperms have an approximate age of 125 million years. However, in 2022 the fossilized remains of a new species (Nanjinganthus dendrostyla) were discovered to be 175 million years old. This was the first specimen to belong to the Jurassic period, which means that flowering plants arose earlier than previously thought.

Fossil of an angiosperm.

Of course, the fossil is quite simple and small. It measures 4.2 centimeters (just under 2 inches) long and 2 centimeters (just under an inch) wide. It has a single leaf and a small bulb at the apex, which corresponds entirely to its fruit. This structure is the most important, as it defines the taxonomic group it belongs to.

8. Impressive dragon fossils

In 1866, several impressive salamander-like fossils were discovered, which had an elongated head with horns, very similar to the mythical appearance of dragons. The only problem is that the appearance of these specimens appeared distorted, so it was impossible to identify the species.

At first, it was believed that these impressive fossils had been exposed to acidic soil that degraded the remains and deformed them. However, in 2022 a group of scientists found another explanation that seems more convincing for the case.

Salamander fossil.

The fossilized specimens are about 300 million years old, which coincides with the time of the formation of Pangaea. This means that the deformation was a direct consequence of the pressure and high temperature caused by the collision of the continents.

9. Romanian turtle

At the end of the Cretaceous period, dinosaurs became massively extinct due to different climatic factors and the theoretical impact of a meteorite. Few reptile species survived this event, so it’s rare to find current descendants of their lineage.

In 2022, the fossil of a freshwater turtle that lived 70 million years ago was discovered. A thorough analysis determined that this new species (Dortoka vremiri) was related to more modern fossils, suggesting that it survived the Cretaceous mass extinction.

Against all odds, this turtle was able to cope with the climatic changes and the assumed meteorite impact of the time. Some specialists believe that this was only possible because its distribution was associated with islands far from the continental mass. Therefore, it didn’t suffer the direct effects of the mass extinction event and survived with relative ease.

10. Fish fossil found on a farm

Fossils are hard to find and can sometimes turn up in the least expected places. A farm in England is the best example of this, as one of the best preserved fossilized fish remains ever reported was found in its grounds.

On the outskirts of Gloucestershire, a group of researchers discovered more than 180 Jurassic fossils of different species in the pastures of a farm near the Costwold Mountains. Among all of them, the remains of a fish of the genus Pachycormus stood out, which was in an almost perfect state of preservation. In fact, it was possible to observe the fossil in 3D as if it were a dissected being.

A fish fossil.

Usually, fossils preserve only some parts of the hardest body tissues. However, in this case, it seems that its entire external appearance was almost completely preserved, so that the details are quite sharp and perceptible in the rock.

Fossils are one of the few ways researchers have to learn about life that existed thousands or millions of years ago. For this reason, the discovery of these remains is always fascinating news that attracts the attention of many people. Of course, there are still many species to be discovered, so it’s likely that new and even more impressive types of fossils will appear in the coming years.

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