Consider the following sentence:

The fossil consists of a complete skull of an archaeocyte, an extinct group of ancestors of modern cetaceans.

Does it mean "the fossil consists of a complete skull; the fossil consists of an archaeocyte; and the fossil consists of an extinct group of ancestors of modern cetaceans"?

What does the sentence mean and how should I understand "archaeocyte" here?

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, "archaeo-" means "ancient" and "-cyte" means "cell". It seems that it doesn't make sense if "archaeocyte" means "an ancient cell" in this sentence.

The sentence is from an article in ETS's The Official Guide to the TOEFL Test(third edition).

  • Why downvote? Is the question too stupid? Any suggestion for making it better?
    – user8970
    Jul 23, 2011 at 15:54

3 Answers 3


The phrase after the comma is simply explanatory, in that it defines an archaeocyte.

The fossil itself consists of just a complete skull, specified in more detail by the words following.

Per @Stan Rogers comment below, the sentence as written is factually incorrect. "Archaeocytes" are primitive sea-sponges, or types of cell; the ancestors of modern cetaceans are "Archaeocetes" (easy mistake to make!). But we're concerned with parsing the syntax here, not the objective truth of the statement.

  • Hmm, good point. I think my confusion is from the word "archaeocyte". Since "-cyte" means cells in the dictionary, I am totally confused with "a skull of an archaeocyte" and I have no idea how a cell can be "an extinct group of ancestors of modern cetaceans".
    – user8970
    Jul 23, 2011 at 15:35
  • 1
    @Jack: Perhaps you could provide the source of your quote. It looks like complete tosh to me, given that archaeocyte seems to mean either a type of cell, or a primitive sea-sponge. I seriously doubt any such animal has ever given us a "fossilised skull". Jul 23, 2011 at 15:50
  • 2
    ...for your edification, the actual ancestor in the quote probably should have been indohyus, as discovered/announced a few years back. Jul 23, 2011 at 15:54
  • 3
    Ah well. Just goes to show TOEFL are more focussed on grammatical structure than statement truth. I've seen stuff here before that gives me a very low opinion of these test papers. Jul 23, 2011 at 16:02
  • 3
    Just for further explanation, the word for one of the class of animals representing ancient (an transitional) cetaceans, is archaeocete (a member of archaeocetidae, or "ancient whales").
    – bye
    Jul 23, 2011 at 21:22

The quote says two things:

  1. The fossil consists of a complete archaeocyte skull.

  2. An archaeocyte is an extinct group of ancestors of modern cetaceans.


The phrase after the comma is referring to archaeocyte, in the same way in the following sentence "the place" is referred to East Hampton.

Her sister passes the summer at East Hampton, the place where they parents have bought their summer house.

As for the meaning of the sentence, I only found that archaeocyte is the name given to amoeboid cells found in sponges. If it is so, then an archaeocyte should not have a skull.

  • +1. Thanks for your answer and explaining of "archaeocyte".
    – user8970
    Jul 23, 2011 at 16:15

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