(ECNS) -- About 99.8 percent of the vertebrates on the earth, including human beings, have jaws, which are collectively referred to as jawed vertebrates or jawed.
The emergence of jawed vertebrates is one of the most critical leaps in the history of vertebrate's evolution from fish to human.
Researchers on Wednesday described the earliest-known vertebrates that possessed jaws as revealed by fossils of four remarkable fish species unearthed in China, two dating from 436 million years ago and two from 439 million years ago.
"In fact, the four articles we published this time reported five ancient fish fossils from southwest China's Guizhou, Chongqing and other areas about 440 million years ago," said Zhu Min, vertebrate paleontologist of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, who led the research published in the journal Nature.
"Among them, four species are jawed fish, filling the gap of jawed fossil record of the early Silurian period in the world for about 14 million years. The large number of fish fossils in the early Silurian period is crucial for us to comprehend the initial stage of jaw evolution. Actually, it suggests that at this stage, the jaw has undergone initial differentiation," he added.
The newly identified species were part of two treasure troves of Silurian Period fossils discovered in southern China. Until now, the earliest-known jawed vertebrates were fish dating to 425 million years ago.