SOS archive: 25 Jan, 2004

IT HAS gone down in history as the town that invented the deep-fried Mars bar and the fountain pen, but now it appears a windswept Scottish coastal town is no less than the cradle of civilisation.

Scientists have been left slack-jawed with wonder at the discovery that life as we know it began in Stonehaven after a fossil picked up in the town last year was confirmed as the oldest air-breathing creature ever discovered.

The millipede is less than 1cm long and lived around 420 million years ago, when Aberdeenshire was part of a giant continent spanning the equator. The find is enormously significant because it is the earliest evidence of a creature living on dry land rather than in the oceans. The Stonehaven millipede is 20 million years older than anything previously found on terra firma and has forced scientists to adjust their understanding of when life forms crawled from the sea and land life as we know it began.

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Michael Newman, a local bus driver and amateur paleontologist, made the discovery while walking on a beach near the town last year.

• Yakub Qureshi on Stonehaven's claim to fame