How vertebrates came to rule the Earth: David Attenborough visits China’s Pompeii to explore the origin of the backbone on a 500-million-year-old journey
- The first episode of David Attenborough’s two-part documentary, Rise of Animals: Triumph of the vertebrates, airs tonight at 9pm on BBC 2
- Sir David explores the origins of the backbone by studying a tiny prehistoric animal and a living fossil living in the south of England
- The documentary uses CGI animation to bring long-dead creatures to life such as the Tiktaalik and famous feathered dinosaur
- It sees Sir David filming for the first time in China, where he sees the fossils that are changing the face of palaeontology
By Published: 12:16 BST, 20 September 2013 | Updated: 13:49 BST, 20 September 2013
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David Attenborough has visited new paleontological hotspots to fill in evolutionary gaps of how vertebrates came to rule the Earth and how their evolution defines our own human bodies.
In a new two-part documentary, Rise of Animals: Triumph of the vertebrates, the naturalist explores the origins of the backbone by studying a tiny prehistoric animal and a living fossil living in the south of England.
Sir David takes a 500-million-year evolutionary journey to study animals including a newly discovered ‘missing link’ from China, a shallow water predator that swam like a fish but took its first steps on land, giant ancient animals and the famous fossil of the feathered dinosaur.Scroll down for exclusive video
Sir David sets out to investigate how vertebrates managed to step out of the water for the first time and his search takes him to see fossils in the Canadian Arctic, revealing an amazing creature called Tiktaalik (a CGI image is pictured) Sir David looks at the story of mammals in the Lufeng Basin of Southern China where he examines a tiny 195-million-year-old fossil of a Hadrocodium skull measuring just one centimeter belonging to one of earliest mammals discovered.
A mocked-up skeleton of a Hadrocodium is pictured The series, which will air at 9pm tonight on BBC 2, uses CGI animation to bring long-dead creatures to life and tells the story of how a wide array of animals, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals came to flourish.It sees Sir David filming for the first time in China, where he sees the fossils that are changing the face of palaeontology, as well as travelling to remote locations across the globe to unravel the mysterious origins of vertebrates, chart their unexpected journey out of the water and reveal the rise of mammals. RELATED ARTICLES
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He said: ‘China has discovered rare fossils which it takes very seriously that have not yet been fully explored by the Western world. Sir David discovers fossilised creatures that would prove the only living legacy of the giant reptiles – the first feathered dinosaurs.
A CGI image is pictured STRANGE VERTEBRATE FACTS
- Every single animal with a backbone descends from a tiny fish of the ancient Cambrian Ocean.
- Our jaws come from an ancestor we share with the sharks, while our paired arms and legs come from a four-fin system that evolved in fish.
- Our articulated head and neck come from fish predators that hunted in swamps and shallows. Prior to that, the head and shoulders were fused.
Our lungs come from the early amphibians, allowing them to breathe oxygen from the air for the first time.
- Hiccups stem from our amphibian past, and replicate the way amphibians force water from their mouths to their gills, to ‘breathe’ underwater.
- Our waterproof skin descends from the reptiles.
They evolved a dry, hard outer layer that locks water inside the body. Today 70 per cent of our body mass is water, and we still can’t survive without it for more than a few days. Our inner ear bones come from the reptiles’ jaw.
- The larger mammal brain and our greater senses of smell, hearing and touch come from the early nocturnal mammals.
Our warm-blooded body was a trait of the earliest mammals and carved a unique niche, allowing them to be active at night.
- Producing milk set us apart from the other vertebrates. The first mammals still laid eggs and oozed milk from special pores in their skin like sweat. Milk was a major driving force in our evolution.
- For the first 150 million years or so of their existence, no mammal was larger than a cat, and most were tiny shrew-like creatures.
‘Having visited China 30 years ago, I wanted to return and film there to find out more about the amazing discoveries scientists have been making there over recent decades.’Sir David was given special access to this treasure trove of new fossil evidence in China, which he uses to answer questions such as where do fingers and toes come from and why are we warm-blooded?The programme explores the origins of verebrates by looking at primitive fish, which sees Sir David joining an excavation team in the Chinese province of Yunnan to unearth creatures entombed in an ancient seabed 525 million years ago.The site is considered one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th century because the creatures fossilised there have filled key gaps in the evolutionary tale and Sir David reveals the origin of the backbone in the paperclip-sized ancient fish called Myllokunmingia.As the fight for space and resources in the ancient ocean grew, animals began to explore the land, including the vertebrates.
Sir David sets out to investigate how vertebrates managed to step out of the water for the first time and his search takes him to see fossils in the Canadian Arctic, revealing an amazing creature called Tiktaalik.
The Tiktaalik’s bones developed into four very simple limbs, allowing the freshwater predators to push themselves around in the shallows and ultimately, to take the first steps onto land. In these creatures are the origins of our arms, legs and articulated necks.Sir David investigates the evolutionary innovations that spawned a pioneering group of land-dwelling reptiles, including watertight skin.
At the Lufeng Dinosaur National Geopark in Yunnan, he sees fossilised watertight dinosaur eggs and in the province of Liaoning in Northern China, Sir David discovers fossilised creatures that would prove the only living legacy of the giant reptiles – the first feathered dinosaurs.
David Attenborough has visited new paleontological hotspots, including Lufeng Dinosaur National Geopark (pictured) to fill in evolutionary gaps of how vertebrates came to rule the Earth and how their evolution defines our own human bodies, in a new two-part documentary The programme explores the origins of verebrates by looking at primitive fish, which sees Sir David joining an excavation team in the Chinese province of Yunnan to unearth creatures entombed in an ancient seabed 525 million years ago, such as the paperclip-sized ancient fish, Myllokunmingia (pictured) The Geopark is China’s Pompeii, where prehistoric creatures preserved in volcanic ash reveal a group of small, tree-living dinosaurs that evolved feathers the forefathers of modern birds.
The feathers were used for warmth and display but flight came later.He said: ‘There’s no question what the number one highlight was – seeing one of these feathered dinosaurs.
To be able to actually see it with a lens…that’s a real privilege.
‘We met the man who identified the first feathers in dinosaurs. He’s a historic figure. Just sitting and listening and talking with him was a privilege.’Sir David then looks at the story of mammals in the Lufeng Basin of Southern China where he examines a tiny 195-million-year-old fossil of a Hadrocodium skull measuring just one centimeter belonging to one of earliest mammals discovered. At the Lufeng Dinosaur National Geopark in Yunnan, Sir David sees fossilised watertight dinosaur eggs (pictured) China’s Pompeii revealed prehistoric creatures preserved in volcanic ash including a group of small, tree-living dinosaurs that evolved feathers the forefathers of modern birds, called Anchiornis.
The feathers were used for warmth and display but flight came later. Here Sir David looks at the famous fossil He looks at how the creature evolved to have fur and warm blood and learned to hunt at night, as well as how other mammals evolved to produce milk around 160 million-years-ago.In Northern China, David studies the earliest fossils yet found of the two live birth groups – the marsupials and the placentals – which make up 99 per cent of all mammals today, as well as travelling the world to see exampled of strange mammals and super-sized Megafauna, such as the Paraceratherium, which was over five metres tall and eight metres long.Sir David is shown a fossilised skull that some experts believe is the earliest human known to have lived in China, 68,000 years ago, before visiting a maternity ward to explain how a child’s skull is adapted to accommodate a large brain, to complete the story of vertebrates.
Sir David said: ‘Evolution continually throws up new designs and some of them fit perfectly for a particular environment at a specific time in history, but in our bodies we contain some of the most amazing developments, which appeared at different times over 500 million years.
Sir David travels the world to see examples of strange mammals and super-sized Megafauna, such as the Paraceratherium, which was over five metres tall and eight metres long and the Titanothere- a CGI version is shown next to a human ‘[These developments appeared] in animals as varied as the fish whose set of four limbs is the forerunner of our own arms and legs; the amphibians which developed the ability to breathe air like us; the reptiles who had the first water-tight skin, so they could live out of water – again like us; and how we are the inheritors of the ability of the earliest warm blooded creatures who could be active at night.
‘I’ll show what it is that sets us apart from other animals and makes us especially able animals.’The first episode of David Attenborough’s two-part documentary, Rise of Animals: Triumph of the vertebrates, airs tonight at 9pm on BBC 2A SELECTION OF THE STRANGE ANIMALS STARRING IN THE DOCUMENTARY
Myllokunmingia: The first known common ancestor of all vertebrates.
Using its early back-bone to move around in a totally new way, this animal diversified over millions of years to create the spectacular variety of backboned creatures we see on our planet today.
Parayunnanolepis: A newly identified ‘missing link’ from China; older fish have front fins but this one has another pair of back fins, or daftar juragan69 pelvic fins, granting much more swimming stability to the owner.
Along with the jaw, sharks and skates benefited greatly from this crucial innovation.
Tiktaalik: An ancient shallow water predator which is the very first vertebrate that could move its head independently of its shoulders.
In deep water it swam like any other fish, but in the shallows it used its big muscles, robust bones and jointed fin to punt around. This key evolutionary step became the driving force behind one of the most spectacular events in evolutionary history: the arrival of vertebrates on land.
Lufengosaurus: Studier legs joints and stronger hips compared to their splayed out ancestors meant dinosaurs like Lufengosaurus could take longer strides and support heavier bodies.
Lufengosaurus were able to support the entire weight of the body on the hind legs, like we can today.
Hadrocodium: This is the earliest mammal fossil we know of which makes it the ancestor of all mammals alive today.
This creature had a new innovation of warm-bloodedness, heightened senses powered by a growing brain which enabled it and the early mammals to operate in the dark.
Juramania: This small mammal is the first creature we know of that nurtured its young inside its body, in a womb.
It is therefore part of the mammal group that we belong too, the placentals. The placental system evolved in Juramania about 160 million years ago.
Titanothere: One of the first ‘megafauna’ they started out as small creatures but evolved to be true giants, standing about 2 and a half metres tall.
Their skulls were massive with bony protrusions that were used for combat and defensive from predators. David helps to excavate a skeleton at the dinosaur excavation site in Lufeng Dinosaur National Geopark, where the large dinosaur eggs were found