An “exceptional” 530-million-year-old fossil contains what could be the oldest eye ever discovered.

The remains of the extinct sea creature include an early form of the eye seen in many of today’s animals, including crabs, bees and dragonflies.

Scientists made the find examining the well-preserved fossil of a hard-shelled trilobite.

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These ancestors of spiders and crabs lived in coastal waters during the Palaeozoic era, between 541-251 million years ago.

They found the ancient creature had a primitive form of compound eye - an optical organ that consists of arrays of tiny visual cells, called ommatidia, similar to those of bees.

The team from Cologne and Tallinn universities, which included a researcher from the University of Edinburgh, say their findings suggest compound eyes have changed little over 500 million years.

Professor Euan Clarkson, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: “This exceptional fossil shows us how early animals saw the world around them hundreds of millions of years ago.

“Remarkably, it also reveals that the structure and function of compound eyes has barely changed.”

The right eye of the fossil – unearthed in Estonia –was partly worn away, giving a clear view inside.