439-Million-Year-Old Fossil Teeth Overturn Long-Held Views About Evolution

Volumetric Reconstruction of a Tooth Whorl

Volumetric reconstruction of a tooth whorl viewed from its lingual side (holotype of Qianodus duplicis). The specimen is just over 2 mm in length. Credit: Zhu, et al.

Rare Chinese fossil teeth have changed scientists’ beliefs about the evolution of vertebrates.

An international team of scientists has found toothed fish remains that date back 439 million years, which suggests that the ancestors of modern chondrichthyans (sharks and rays) and osteichthyans (ray- and lobe-finned fish) originated far earlier than previously believed.

The findings were recently published in the prestigious journal Nature.

A remote location in south China’s Guizhou Province has yielded magnificent fossil findings, including solitary teeth identified as belonging to a new species (Qianodus duplicis) of primitive jawed vertebrate from the ancient Silurian period (about 445 to 420 million years ago). Qianodus, named after the ancient name for the present-day Guizhou, possessed unusual spiral-like dental elements carrying several generations of teeth that were inserted throughout the course of the animal’s life.


A reconstruction of Qianodus duplicis swimming. Credit: IVPP

One of the rarest fossils found at the site ended up being the tooth spirals (or whorls) of Qianodus. Due to their tiny size, which seldom exceeds 2.5 mm, they had to be studied under magnification with visible light and X-ray radiation.

A conspicuous feature of the whorls is that they contained a pair of teeth rows set into a raised medial area of the whorl base. These so-called primary teeth exhibit a gradual growth in size as they approach the inner (lingual) whorl. The distinct offset between the two primary teeth rows is what distinguishes the whorls of Qianodus from those of other vertebrates. Although it hasn’t been previously discovered in the tooth whorls of fossil species, a similar arrangement of nearby teeth rows is also present in the dentitions of several modern sharks.

Virtual Section Along the Length of a Tooth Whorl

A virtual section along the length of a tooth whorl in side view (holotype of Qianodus duplicis). The specimen is just over 2 mm in length. Credit: Zhu, et al.

The discovery indicates that the well-known jawed vertebrate groups from the so-called “Age of Fishes” (420 to 460 million years ago) were already established some 20 million years earlier.

“Qianodus provides us with the first tangible evidence for teeth, and by extension jaws, from this critical early period of vertebrate evolution,” said Li Qiang from Qujing Normal University.

Unlike the continuously shedding teeth of modern sharks, the researchers believe that the tooth whorls of Qianodus were kept in the mouth and increased in size as the animal grew. This interpretation explains the gradual enlargement of replacement teeth and the widening of the whorl base as a response to the continuous increase in jaw size during development.

For the researchers, the key to reconstructing the growth of the whorls was two specimens at an early stage of formation, easily identified by their noticeably smaller sizes and fewer teeth. A comparison with the more numerous mature whorls provided the paleontologists with a rare insight into the developmental mechanics of early vertebrate dentitions. These observations suggest that primary teeth were the first to form whereas the addition of the lateral (accessory) whorl teeth occurred later in development.

Qianodus duplicis

A reconstruction of Qianodus duplicis, a primitive jawed vertebrate. Credit: Zhang Heming

“Despite their peculiarities, tooth whorls have, in fact, been reported in many extinct chondrichthyans and osteichthyan lineages,” said Plamen Andreev, the lead author of the study. “Some of the early chondrichthyans even built their dentition entirely from closely spaced whorls.”

The researchers claim that this was also the case for Qianodus. They made this conclusion after examining the small (1–2 mm long) whorls of the new species with synchrotron radiation—a CT scanning process that uses high-energy X-rays from a particle accelerator.

“We were astonished to discover that the tooth rows of the whorls have a clear left or right offset, which indicates positions on opposing jaw rami,” said Prof. Zhu Min from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

These observations are supported by a phylogenetic tree that identifies Qianodus as a close relative to extinct chondrichthyan groups with whorl-based dentitions.

“Our revised timeline for the origin of the major groups of jawed vertebrates agrees with the view that their initial diversification occurred in the early Silurian,” said Prof. ZHU.

The discovery of Qianodus provides tangible proof for the existence of toothed vertebrates and shark-like dentition patterning tens of millions of years earlier than previously thought. The phylogenetic analysis presented in the study identifies Qianodus as a primitive chondrichthyan, implying that jawed fish were already quite diverse in the Lower Silurian and appeared shortly after the evolution of skeletal mineralization in ancestral lineages of jawless vertebrates.

“This puts into question the current evolutionary models for the emergence of key vertebrate innovations such as teeth, jaws, and paired appendages,” said Ivan Sansom, a co-author of the study from the University of Birmingham.

Reference: “The oldest gnathostome teeth” by Plamen S. Andreev, Ivan J. Sansom, Qiang Li, Wenjin Zhao, Jianhua Wang, Chun-Chieh Wang, Lijian Peng, Liantao Jia, Tuo Qiao, and Min Zhu, 28 September 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05166-2

31 Comments on "439-Million-Year-Old Fossil Teeth Overturn Long-Held Views About Evolution"

  1. Rats! Biology fools scientists again!

  2. Wish the article indicated the size(s) of these primitive fish…

  3. When will scientists realize this discovery is more evidence that God is
    responsible for human creation and He is eternal!

  4. You fools and your theories have no end in sight.

  5. Imagine that, evolution proved wrong…again. I’m still waiting for the day all the monkeys finally emerge as humans. If evolution is real, monkeys should still be evolving and leaving the forests.

    • Evolution is a puzzle with thousands of pieces, and we haven’t even broke the 100 piece collection barrier.
      It takes many a millenia for monkeys to just ‘evolve and leave the forests’.
      If it were that easy, wouldn’t creatures simply just rapidly evolve to avoid the crisis that is global warming?
      Wouldn’t we as humans have evolved to have built-in shoes, so our feet don’t get hurt?
      We’ve got calluses at most, and even then, you’d likely agree a callus isn’t going to beat a thumbtack like some shoes can.
      Evolution takes time, and attempting to understand how things came to be what they are now means taking risks and making theories with the less than a hundred or so pieces we have of this thousand piece puzzle scattered across time.
      Given time, we’ll collect all the pieces and finally be able to see the full picture, and even then, we’re only human, we may stumble as we try to wrap our heads around the mess before us.

      And before you bring God into the mix, I propose the possibility that God made evolution happen the way that it did. That evolution itself is the intentional design, which we can ponder and piece together to better understand ourselves.
      Maybe God really did start with some cells and guide it all along within free will’s limits, to get to us. Maybe it’s just one of many ways that God used to help us see just how lucky we are to be where we are and be able to understand his teachings, if that’s what you choose to believe.
      But that’s between you and your God, I’ll leave that to you.

  6. Clowns, no such thing as Darwin’s evolution. It is and always has been a theory. Unproven. God created all things.

  7. As a Physicist, I learned my professors could never explain mathematically or by theoretical logic the very basic construction of atoms and more importantly how they were held together. Atomic Glue?….yes I was taught that. That was intrumentally and fundamentally the reason Faith came

  8. Having studied evolution at some depth at Reed College in the 1970s, and having watched the progress of evolutionary thought since then, I agree with some of the other commentators here, that it’s time evolutionary scientists admit that the evidence points to Creation, with all the complexity that we now find, present from the earliest. The progression of organisms that we find in the geological column generally follows the burial of creatures from deep sea to amphibian to land animals, and the animals who were mobile enough to escape not caught in the deposition of sedimentary layers. What we see in the geological column fits the “Theory” (if I may call it that) of the biblical flood, not the theory of Random appearance of genetic mutations bringing about structures and behaviors to be selected in this upward progression from extremely simple extremely complex.

    In this regard, it is of note how one of the researchers was stunned at the complexity of the opposite direction of the whorls of teeth on the opposite jaws. That belies a belief that the further down in the geological column one goes, the further back in the evolutionary process one goes, and the more simplicity of structure one should find. But that is not what one finds, is it?

    The evidence is overwhelming. I mean the hard evidence. It is overwhelmingly showing that fantastic complexity is present in every living organism at any stage in the geological column one wants to look. There are no precursors or intermediates to the level of complexity at any tier of biology one wants to name, whether it be cellular, physiological, or behavioral.

    When is the scientific community, which seems to be locked in a politically correct mental straight jacket, going to admit that the theory of evolution is untenable in the face of the evidence?

  9. Dennis Johnson | October 25, 2022 at 3:23 pm | Reply

    So funny how theists come out of the woodwork to spout their unproven claims of a supposed “god”. If he truly did exist, that would mean Satan is real and that he freed us from the slavery of your so called God’s evil will upon man.

  10. Evolution is literally proven by anti-biotic resistance to anyone who thinks that evolution is fake.

  11. What are all these religious idiots doing here anyway. If you can’t handle science, don’t go on science websites.

  12. Don’t be silly, this in no way “disproves” Darwin or evolution! It is a minor change to a minor element of how we thought evolution works. Here’s an analogy. Let’s say you and I disagree about what is on the corner of 5th street and Main Street, you believing it’s a gas station and I believing it’s a Methodist church. It turns out to be a Presbyterian church, so I revise my belief. That’s a minor quibble and does absolutely nothing to advance your gas station theory.

  13. Why does anything about us getting new information on evolution automatically lead to God lovers preaching how it’s proof God exists and evolution is fake?
    If you have a jigsaw puzzle that’s missing 30 of the 50 pieces, and you guess that it’s a horse due to the hooves, it’s a fair assumption.
    If you find more pieces, add them to the puzzle, and realize it looks more like a Hippogriff (Griffon with hooked back feet), that doesn’t mean the picture magically changed because we got more pieces, or that we were fully wrong because our guess was off.
    It just means with more pieces, you have more context, and can understand the full story better.
    Imagining these fossils as pieces, we only had 20 of the 50 set in our metaphor here. This tooth fossil just happens to be that odd piece that finally made us realize there was a beak, and in turn the picture could not be a horse, using said metaphor still.
    Which doesn’t mean you should start shouting about how God magically made the picture into a Hippogriff. It just means you can’t always get something right on the first try if you don’t have all the pieces.
    And the puzzle of evolution is a MASSIVE puzzle.
    If I’m honest, for all we know, maybe God started the big bang. Maybe because he set it off, he also set things in line to happen a certain way, and in turn we are all correct, that God planned this, but evolution still happened.
    Or maybe we’ve a case of Last Thursdayism, where we have no proof that everything wasn’t just put into place exactly how we see it now, memories and fossils and animals and all, on last Thursday, because nothing is stable enough proof that it wasn’t all just made to look old or like it has existed that long.
    And my point in adding that is. Don’t bloody shove your beliefs into each other’s faces. Ain’t no point in pointin fingers and pretendin you’re better for loving a sky daddy, and ain’t no point in pretendin you’re better for loving some text books.
    Just let us appreciate progress. Please.

    • *Griffon with hooved back feet.
      Auto correct folks, gotta love it.

      ..also, the profile photo is old. Not sure where it got pulled from, that’s from about 2012 or so, been changed at least 7 times since. Love algorithms too.

  14. And which God are these naive idiots in the comments referencing? There have been a lot throughout history so better to specify which mythology you subscribe to than simply say God. As a spiritual person I find it detestable to see these blind believers attempts to refute something based entirely on empirical evidence with poor circumstantial, circular arguements. “See you’re wrong again, it must have been God!” Is exactly the type of harmful language that turns the intelligent to atheism, you don’t elevate the spirit or the Christian God, you use it like a crutch. Through whataboutism and synical “I told you so’s” to try and prove your own points and make your own claims, that is your own doctrine your own sad reality. My God doesn’t want credit and doesn’t need you to fight a battle that’s irrelevant. So quit using His name to smear science like a bunch of self righteous assholes.

  15. So many dumb sheep. Evolution is proven…

  16. As always, 1) complex structure is complete and functional (not partially per evolution because God created it good from the get go) 2) pushing back the supposed appearance by XX millions of years earlier. (because TRUE transitional forms cannot be found)

  17. These anti-evolutionists have no idea what they are talking about. They have chosen a position where their faith depends on rejectiom of any scientific evidence. I am a human geneticist with 43 years of experience helping people deal with their (or their offspring’s) chromosomal or single gene mutations, and have been an evangelical Christian for as long. The only reason I speak up is that these people’s ignorant attitude pushes many young informed proessional people away from Christ simply because of what they KNOW to be true, whetger they are molecular biologists, cytogeneticists,
    geologists palaontologists, biochemists, or astronomers etc. With your anti-evolutionary delusions you are actually working with satan to undermine potential faith in GOD.

  18. Evolution is a puzzle with thousands of pieces, and we haven’t even broke the 100 piece collection barrier.
    It takes many a millenia for monkeys to just ‘evolve and leave the forests’.
    If it were that easy, wouldn’t creatures simply just rapidly evolve to avoid the crisis that is global warming?
    Wouldn’t we as humans have evolved to have built-in shoes, so our feet don’t get hurt?
    We’ve got calluses at most, and even then, you’d likely agree a callus isn’t going to beat a thumbtack like some shoes can.
    Evolution takes time, and attempting to understand how things came to be what they are now means taking risks and making theories with the less than a hundred or so pieces we have of this thousand piece puzzle scattered across time.
    Given time, we’ll collect all the pieces and finally be able to see the full picture, and even then, we’re only human, we may stumble as we try to wrap our heads around the mess before us.

    And before you bring God into the mix, I propose the possibility that God made evolution happen the way that it did. That evolution itself is the intentional design, which we can ponder and piece together to better understand ourselves.
    Maybe God really did start with some cells and guide it all along within free will’s limits, to get to us. Maybe it’s just one of many ways that God used to help us see just how lucky we are to be where we are and be able to understand his teachings, if that’s what you choose to believe.
    But that’s

  19. I find it funny that the Theists also don’t understand that the evolutionists love to hear that there is more evidence that proves one thought wrong, but evolutionary biology right. Maybe not so much the group that theorized the original date, but if those folks are true scientists, they will let the data and the hard facts speak for themselves.

  20. Evolution is a lie. The Earth is only 6000 years old.

  21. Samuel winstanley | October 28, 2022 at 1:26 am | Reply

    So why is evolution still the only game in town , It will be proven wrong time & time again, but still the world and its ‘scientific priesthood ‘clings onto it because to believe in a Creator with all the implications that involves is too terrifying for many of them to imagine

  22. There’s literally a guy in these comments claiming to be an actual physicist but also simultaneously claims that the cohesion of atoms cannot be explained by science… Literally they can, dummyif you’re a physicist you should know that a positive charge is attracted to a negative charge, and that’s how atoms are held together. You people are morons

  23. A lot of moronic creationists think that creation and evolution are mutually exclusive and binary but have offered absolutely zero proof or logic to explain why evolution and creation can’t coexist. And if they can coexist, then it renders the study of creation irrelevant, because you can’t prove that you can do miracles or talk to God, but we CAN prove that devices and technology reengineered from nature DO ACTUALLY WORK. Which means creation IRRELEVANT because it has no purpose in science. There is nothing creation can contribute to science whatsoever. It is literally just a story for children and adults who are scared of eternity

  24. Evolution is not a theory,it’s a fact.ALL life started in water.Its hard for humans to comprehend 4.5 billion years.
    We can watch evolution in the way bacteria and viruses mutate to resist medications.
    The earth and man and animals created in one week is Man’s explanation for what couldn’t be explained before science could.
    It is what it is.
    Get over it!

  25. I’m very sad after reading comments here. It’s XXI century, let’s leave all suggestions in mythology books.

  26. Micah Joel Geimer | October 29, 2022 at 4:47 pm | Reply

    I’m sorry, but Creation is just false. The god of christianity does not exist, no matter how hard you try to force that false narrative.

  27. And he deceives the whole world I guess I could go many ways

  28. And he deceives the whole world I guess that could go many ways

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