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Top 10 Things That Are the Oldest of Their Kind

Jana is an amateur archaeologist who examined her first rock at the age of 2. She likes to group ancient discoveries together in fun lists.

Books may be durable but they are not the only winners in the contest of the oldest.

Books may be durable but they are not the only winners in the contest of the oldest.

10. The Oldest Guy: 112 Years Old

In 2018, the Guinness Book of World Records confirmed the oldest man alive was 112 years old. Masazo Nonaka lives in Japan and far from languishing in an old age home, he still resides with his family. When Albert Einstein announced his theory of special relativity, Nonaka was a couple of months old. Born on July 25, 1905, the supercentenarian officially took the title after the previous oldest man passed away. Francisco Nunez Olivera of Spain was 113. The record for the oldest man in history also went to a Japanese citizen—Jiroemon Kimura, who reached the age of 116 years and 54 days. He died in 2013. The oldest person ever was a woman named Violet Brown. The 117-year-old Jamaican died in 2017. Nonaka credits his longevity to sweets and lounging in hot springs. But his daughter believes cakes have little to do with it and that his stress-free existence is the secret. Pets, family, television, sumo wrestling, and newspapers entertain the world's oldest man on a daily basis.

9. Message In A Bottle: 131 Years Old

About 19 years before Masazo Nonaka was born, a bottle was hurled into the ocean. Early in 2018, Tonya Illman picked up trash on Australia's Wedge Island when she noticed a brown bottle. Luckily, instead of throwing it away with the rest, she thought it was pretty enough to take home. Later that same day, her son's girlfriend found the note inside. After drying the damp paper in the oven, they realized it was from another lifetime. On the face were typed letters, in German, and illegible writing. The experts soon wove together the bottle's origins. It mentioned a German sailing ship, the Paula, which was heading to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). When checked, the meteorological logbook of the vessel had a telling entry—a message in a bottle had been thrown overboard on June 12, 1886. The handwriting and ink matched the note's and suggests that the Paula's captain, O. Diekmann, cast the bottle. It was not a strange thing to do. At the time, German mariners cast thousands of bottled messages into the ocean to study currents.

Though not the famous Ming itself, this is the same species of shellfish, the ocean quahog.

Though not the famous Ming itself, this is the same species of shellfish, the ocean quahog.

8. Oldest Animal: 507 Years Old

In 1499, just a few years after Columbus arrived in America, an animal was born. It lived for 507 years before being killed by scientists. A 2006 expedition trawled Iceland when the normal-looking shellfish, the ocean quahog, was taken on board and frozen for later study. Only when researchers counted the growth rings did they realize what they have killed—the world's oldest animal. They named it Ming, after the dynasty (1368 - 1644) that ruled China when the mollusk was a baby. The analysis suggested that Ming was 405 years old and this earned it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Not until 2013, with the advent of better dating technology, was it discovered that Ming was actually over a century older. One of the reasons scientists miscalculated was because the growth rings, over 500 of them, were densely compressed and difficult to count. Remarkably, Ming is a tiny weather report. Year by year, each ring tells scientists the temperature of the sea. The resulting pattern is a unique way to view an ancient climate.

7. Human Footprints: 13,000 Years Old

The oldest human tracks in North America were found by accident. In 2014, researchers boarded Calvert Island in British Columbia to investigate sediments underneath the beach. While digging a hole, they encountered a prehistoric footprint. In the years that followed, 29 came to light. They included at least bare-footed two adults and a child. A larger number of right feet were preserved and not all the steps went in the same direction. Interestingly, whoever walked along the shoreline 13,000 years ago left the first physical evidence that people arrived from Asia via the coastline. Previous suggestions only involved migrations into North America across the interior. The trio's prints were likely preserved when high tide arrived and poured clay and gravel into the tracks. Another tidbit about their identity was provided by ancient geography. Back in the day, Calvert Island could only be reached by boat. This implied the individuals belonged to a maritime community that explored islands for resources.

6. First Dutchwoman And Art: 13,500 Years Old

When a bone was found in the North Sea, it was identified as a human skull fragment. Although hard to confirm, the wedge probably belonged to a woman. She died 13,000 years ago, aged 22 to 45. Found in 2013 near the Dutch coast, the submerged area was once dry land that connected continental Europe with the British Isles. She was likely part of the hunter-gatherer groups who followed herds when the latter began migrating to the pine forests that emerged during that time. Earlier, in 2005, the same region produced a bison bone. It was older than the skull by 500 years and bore a zigzag pattern. When the carving was linked to the Federmesser culture of northwest Europe, it became the oldest known Dutch art. What the zigzag means remains an open question, but it could represent water or a shamanistic element.

5. Human Outside Africa: 85,000 Years Old

A study released in 2018 aged human presence outside of Africa with around 30,000 years. A few years earlier, a finger bone was found at Al Wusta in Saudi Arabia. The fossil finger had no DNA left but visual analysis managed to confirm the digit was human. Contemporary hominids like Neanderthals had more robust hands. The piece appears to be the middle segment of the rudest finger people own. At 85,000 - 90,000 years old, it disproved the belief that humans left Africa 60,000 years ago. Additionally, it suggested Homo sapiens successfully departed along routes that excluded the coastal lanes. Previously, researchers thought humans could only have sustained their foray from the continent with seafood. However, other bones found at the site included African game. This made alternative routes viable as hunters likely followed the animals drawn to Arabia's freshwater lakes (such as Al Wusta). Homo sapien remains outside of Africa is nothing new, but none are this ancient. The finger bone also cements human presence across a vast area of southwest Asia when our species was believed to be limited to the Levant.

Sauropod species were huge. See how humans measured against these massive herbivores.

Sauropod species were huge. See how humans measured against these massive herbivores.

4. Scotland's Oldest Dinosaur: 170 Million Years Old

The world's biggest dinosaur is also Scotland's oldest. In 2018, tyre-sized tracks were found in a lagoon on the Isle of Sky. Around 170 million years ago, an early form of sauropod plodded along with its herd. They browsed in the water and along the beach. In the process, the giant creatures left around 50 footprints for posterity. The rare tracks revealed the herd's members were the biggest animals to ever walk on land. The long-necked dinosaurs were at least 49 feet (15 meters) from nose to tail and weighed over 10 tonnes. Their size probably allowed the animals to graze in peace but danger was not far off. In the same area were the tracks of 6 feet (2m) tall ancestors of T. rex. Finding sauropods and carnivores together adds to Skye's gallery of ever-increasing prehistoric discoveries. The enormous herbivores' apparent appreciation of water also supports the notion that at least some dinosaurs were semi-aquatic.

3. Butterflies: 200 Million Years Old

When scientists recently found the world's oldest butterflies, all that was left of the fragile creatures were wing scales. The fossils, dug up in northern Germany, revealed an astonishing fact. Butterflies and moths existed at a time when there were no flowers on Earth. Tasty blooms only arrived 140 million years ago, which is about 60 millennia after the scales were deposited in Germany. Some of the fossils shared traits with modern moths and this killed the assumption that nectar-drinking insects and flowering plants evolved together. Researchers believe early butterflies and moths started out with a different diet. They fed on pollination drops from cycads and other seed-producing plants. Once flowers made their appearance, the insects decided nectar was a better deal and jumped ship.

2. Oldest DNA: 419 Million Years Old

In 2009, a bacterium surfaced that was entirely new to science. After intact DNA was drawn from the organisms, things got strange. The genetic material was 419 million years old and resembled DNA previously recovered from the Michigan Basin, where the ancient bacteria came from. However, unlike the earlier DNA's strong match with modern bacteria, the new samples had six genetic sequences never seen before. Then there came a telling link with bacteria called Halobacterium salinarum. This bug is the oldest of the salt-loving bacteria family tree, which includes the Michigan Basin discovery. Though the group is viewed as the descendants of Earth's first life forms, H. salinarum was thought to be relatively modern. That changed when its Michigan cousin showed it was genetically close to species from 121 - 419 million years ago. During the 1930s, H. salinarum was found alive on a salt-cured buffalo hide. Recently, the salt was tracked to a long-gone ancient sea in Saskatchewan. Remarkably, scientists now suspect that H. salinarum survived for 300 million years because the bacteria was locked inside brine-filled crystals.

Example of a trilobite fossil.

Example of a trilobite fossil.

1. The First Eye: 530 Million Years Old

During a 2017 dig in Estonia, researchers found an extinct sea creature. Trilobites species were once plentiful and before long, the Estonian individual was identified as Schmidtiellus reetae. It came with an exceptional detail. The 530-million-year-old fossil still had its right eye—the oldest in the world. The sight organ was an early version known as a compound eye. Today, it still exists in crabs and insects like dragonflies and bees. Damage to the trilobite's eye allowed researchers to have a good look inside. It showed that the structure of compound eyes and how they worked barely evolved in 500 million years. However, the trilobite's vision was primitive compared to today. It had fewer visual cells and no lens. The creature might have been myopic in a dangerous world, but scientists are certain its sight was adequate to view the environment and spot predators.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit


Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on May 25, 2018:

This is an awesome list!