Sculpture of ancient, unique sea creature helps shed light on extinct species

A team of researchers have used fossil evidence to create the first 3D models of the ancient species Agnostus pisiformis.

A team of Swedish researchers have used data and fossil records to create the first 3D sculpture of an ancient, odd-looking sea creature known as Agnostus pisiformis,  a new study published in Earth Science Reviews reports.

The strange species lived between 506 to 492 million years ago and went extinct during the early stages of the Upper Cambrian period. It was a trilobite-like arthropod that existed in huge numbers and left fossil traces across England, Scandinavia, and Russia.

The sculpture is important because it offers new information about the well-known species and has helped scientists build the most thorough review of the Cambrian creature to date. While the ancient animal had many odd features, the team refers to it as a “beautiful fossil animal”.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course, but to me it is beautiful for a number of reasons,” lead author Mats E. Eriksson, a professor at Lund University, told Gizmodo. “I love its anatomy, but I guess it becomes even more beautiful in my eyes because of its long and convoluted research history, and its applicability. Finally, being known from exceptionally [well] preserved material we have detailed insights into its anatomy… What is there not to love?”

Scientists have known about Agnostus pisiformis since scientist Magnus von Bromell first described the odd species in 1729. Since then, researchers have found many traces of the clam-like creature, which has allowed them to properly model both its two outer shells and its soft interior tissue. That extensive knowledge also enabled the team in the study to create the new sculptures. 

The models are a mix of clay, silicone, and translucent polyurethane resin. They show Agnostus pisiformis in multiple poses, including a closed-in protective mode and a swimming mode.

In addition to the sculptures, the new study gives an exhaustive review of the species, including an account of its research history, distribution, anatomy, physical development, and possible behaviors.

“The sculptures have been greatly scaled up and show the animal’s complete anatomy down to the smallest detail, including all the extremities and antennae,” added Erikkson, according to Gizmodo Australia. “The incredible degree of preservational detail means that we can grasp the entire anatomy of the animal, which in turn reveals a lot about its ecology and mode of life.”

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