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Facts and fancies about early fossil chordates and vertebrates

Author(s): Janvier P

Abstract

The interrelationships between major living vertebrate, and even chordate, groups are now reasonably well resolved thanks to a large amount of generally congruent data derived from molecular sequences, anatomy and physiology. But fossils provide unexpected combinations of characters that help us to understand how the anatomy of modern groups was progressively shaped over millions of years. The dawn of vertebrates is documented by fossils that are preserved as either soft-tissue imprints, or minute skeletal fragments, and it is sometimes difficult for palaeontologists to tell which of them are reliable vertebrate remains and which merely reflect our idea of an ancestral vertebrate.

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