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the web of life in southern Africa

# Class: Euconodonta (conodont animals)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata 

Conodont animals were eal-like primitive jawless vertebrates that lived 520 to 190 million years ago. For many years they were only known from fossilised tooth-like structures (termed conodonts) and their true identity was only revealed once fossilised soft body parts were discovered in association with the conodonts. Conodont fossils are found worldwide and in southern Africa are know from the Soom Shale in the Cedarberg.

Conodonts are small tooth-like fossils (0.25 - 2 mm long) that are found in marine sediments dating from the late Cambrian through to the Triassic (c 520 - 190 million years BP), and are important in identifying different marine strata. The animal to which these conodont structures belonged remained a mystery until the 1980's when a fossil was discovered near Edinburgh with such excellent preservation of soft parts that the form of the whole animal could be discerned. The conodont animal turned out to be an eal-like early jawless vertebrate.  Some of the biggest conodonts have been discovered in the Soom Shale in the Cedarberg Mountains, Western Cape, South Africa, and soft body parts have been preserved in these strata as well.  


  • Aldridge, R.J., Theron, J.N., Gabbott, S.E. 1994. The Soom Shale: a unique Ordovician fossil horizon in South Africa. Geol. Today 10: 218221.

  • Durand, J.F. 2005. Major African contributions to Palaeozoic and Mesozoic vertebrate palaeontology. Journal of African Earth Sciences  43: 53-82.

  • Gabbott, S.E. 1998. Taphonomy of the Ordovician Soom Shale Lagerstatte: an example of soft tissue preservation in clay minerals. Palaeontology 41: 631667.

  • Gabbott, S.E., Aldridge, R.J., Theron, J.N. 1995. A giant conodont with preserved muscle tissue from the Upper Ordovician of South Africa. Nature 374: 800803.

  • Gabbott, S.E., Norry, M.J., Aldridge, R.J., Theron, J.N. 2001. Preservation of fossils in clay minerals, a unique example from the Upper Ordovician Soom Shale, South Africa. Proc. Yorkshire Geol. Soc. 53: 237244.