Terrifying prehistoric creature discovered given equally eerie name by scientists – Express

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A group of scientists has discovered a prehistoric creature encased in ash – and it has a nickname to fit its burial. 

The experts have uncovered a mold from a mountain top in Morocco as they found the most pristine specimen of a trilobite they dubbed “Pompeii”, reports Mail Online

The creature was instantly fossilised by hot ash in seawater from a nearby volcano, much like the fate of those in Pompeii during the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 76 AD.

Although over 20,000 species of trilobites have been unearthed, scientists have only previously found soft tissue. 

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However, this latest discovery includes everything from its digestive tract to the hair-like structures along its appendages.

Dr Greg Edgecombe, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum, said: “I have been studying trilobites for nearly 40 years, but I never felt like I was looking at live animals as much as I have with this ones.

“I have seen a lot of soft anatomy of trilobites, but it’s the 3D preservation here that is truly astounding.

“An unexpected outcome of our work is discovering that volcanic ash in shallow marine settings could be a bonanza for exceptional fossil preservation.”

The ash mold was collected in the High Atlas, the highest peak of a 1,153-foot mountain range in central Morocco.

Previous work in the area has uncovered a wealth of marine fossils dating back up to 110 million years, making this latest discovery particularly remarkable.

The ash preserved the entire body of the trilobite and filled its digestive tract, allowing researchers to analyse it for the first time.

Even small “lamp shells” attached to the trilobite’s exoskeleton remained connected by fleshy stalks, just as they were in life.

Lead author Prof Abderrazak El Albani, said: “As a scientist who has worked on fossils from different ages and locations, discovering fossils in such a remarkable state of preservation within a volcanic setting was a profoundly exhilarating experience for me.

“I think pyroclastic deposits should become new targets for study, given their exceptional potential for trapping and preserving biological remains, including delicate soft tissues. These findings are anticipated to lead to significant discoveries about the evolution of life on our planet Earth.”

By using CT scanning and computer modelling of virtual X-ray slices, the researchers discovered that the appendages at the edge of the mouth had curved, spoon-like bases. 

These were so small that they had gone undetected in less well-preserved fossils. Previously, it was believed that trilobites had three pairs of head appendages behind their long antennae. 

However, both Moroccan species studied revealed that there were actually four pairs. Additionally, a fleshy lobe covering the mouth, known as a labrum, was documented in trilobites for the first time.

Co-author Harry Berks, from the University of Bristol, said: “The results revealed in exquisite detail a clustering of specialized leg pairs around the mouth, giving us a clearer picture of how trilobites fed. 

“The head and body appendages were found to have an inward-facing battery of dense spines, like those of today’s horseshoe crabs.”

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