Swedish and French researchers say that all faces, including those of humans, evolved from an ancient, jawless fish that swam the oceans some 415 million years ago.
The scientists, in a study published in the journal "Nature" Wednesday, outlined the development of the face, reports Reuters
, saying the evolution of the jaw eventually brought development of the face.
Clues are coming from the fossilized remains of a small armored fish, the Romundina, which were found recently in the Canadian Arctic.
To develop the theory, researchers scanned Romundina's skull with high-energy X-rays at the European Synchrotron in France. The fish was found to have a mix of features found in jawless fish and more modern fish with jaws.
The fish also had an odd face of its own, with a short forebrain and an upper lip in front of its nose. It was about eight inches long and had a small spine and a jaw with crushing plates, not teeth.
"The face is one of the most important and emotionally significant parts of our anatomy, so it is interesting to understand how it came into being," said Per Ahlberg, an expert in vertebrate evolution at Uppsala University in Sweden.
Researchers said the transition of vertebrates from being jawless to jawed occurred in three steps. In the first step, shown by Romundina, the jaws evolved when a single nostril that reached under the brain in jawless vertebrates was eventually replaced by a floor under the brain, opening separate left and right nostrils on the face.
In the second step, represented by more-advanced armored fish, the upper lip shrank to nothing and left the nose above the upper jaw, researchers said, and in the final step, in modern jawed vertebrates, the forebrain and face were lengthened.
"When you look at Romundina, it's like looking at yourself in the mirror, but with a 415 million-year-old image," said Vincent Dupret of Uppsala, another of the researchers. "It's like in a science-fiction movie. You look at the mirror, but it's not you. It's your ancestor."
Researchers from Uppsala, the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble collaborated on the study.
But the findings conflict with biblically-based creationists' view of life, which holds that humans were created by God, reports The Washington Times.
Some creationists also believe the earth is only a few thousand years old.
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