January 13, 1993

Article at Reuters

Fossil find puts ancient China next to Australia

Sinolepidae, a placoderm fish fossil

By Wilson da Silva

SYDNEY – A 350-million-year-old fossil of an extinct armoured fish thought to be unique to China has been discovered in Australia, suggesting the two land masses were once very close together, scientists said on Wednesday. 

The fossil of the bizarre fish, its head and body shielded in bony plates and its fins encased in armour, was unearthed 18 years ago. But puzzled Australian scientists did not realise its significance until visiting Chinese scientists identified it. 

“We had suspicions it might be similar to the China one,” said palaeontologist Alex Ritchie of Sydney’s Australian Museum. “We didn’t think it was in the same family.” 

The sinolepidae, a placoderm fish about 15 to 20 cm (six to eight inches) long and unique to China, was found in the Grenfell region about 150 km (90 miles) west of Sydney. 

The find was conclusively linked with a sinolepidae fish in a scientific paper published in last month’s Records of the Australian Museum journal. 

Australia, Antarctica, South America, Africa and India were linked millions of years ago in a supercontinent known as Gondwana. 

Recent studies indicate parts of southern and northern China were once positioned less than 1,000 km (620 miles) off eastern Australia before drifting north to collide with Asia, Ritchie said. The Australian find strengthens this theory. 

When found, the fossil was scattered in pieces and armour plating missing from the underbelly. 

Only later did Ritchie and colleague Gavin Young realise it might be related to a similar soft-bellied placoderm fish in China that lived between 390 and 350 million years ago. 

Chinese palaeontologists Wang Shitao and Zhang Guorui, who co-authored the paper, later confirmed this and matched it with other recent finds in China, Ritchie said.