SYDNEY, Australia, Oct. 22 — A tadpole-shaped fossil, believed to be the oldest vertebrate ever found, has been uncovered by a farmer in a rugged range of hills in southern Australia, a museum paleontologist said Wednesday. The fossil, of a 26-inch fishlike animal, is believed to be at least 560 million years old — 30 million years older than the previous record…

THE LATEST FOSSIL was discovered in sandstone in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia state, an area well known for its abundance of fossils. The exact location of the find is being kept secret.

“The fantastic thing about this specimen is that it’s at least 30 million years older than anything else that could be even vaguely related to vertebrates,” South Australia Museum paleontologist Jim Gehling told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

“(The Flinders Ranges fossil is) at least 560 million years old, it could be even about 5 million years older (565 million years old) — it’s very hard to tell.” Vertebrates are animals with backbones. In 1999, researchers reported fossils of what were then the oldest known vertebrates, jawless fish from about 530 million years ago in China.

One researcher suggested those fossils were evolved enough that the first vertebrates must have developed much earlier, perhaps around 555 million years ago…

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