Spectacular trove of Cambrian fossils uncovered in China

Very highly detailed impression of a segmented, many legged organism.

Enlarge / The level of
detail in some of the fossils is astonishing. (credit: Dongjing Fu
et. al.)

The first signs of complex animal life begin in the Ediacaran
Period, which started over 600 million years ago. But it’s
difficult to understand how those organisms relate to the life we
see around us today. Part of this issue is that those fossils are
rare, as many rocks of that period appear to have been
wiped off the Earth
by a globe-spanning glaciation. But nother
problem is that the organisms we do see from this period aren’t
clearly related to anything that came after them.

With the arrival of the Cambrian Period about 550 million years
ago, all of that changed. In fossil beds like the famed Burgess
Shale, we can see organisms that clearly have features of the major
groups of life that have persisted to this day. As more collections
of fossils become available, we can even watch groups diversify as
the Cambrian progressed. But there’s still considerable debate over
whether these changes represent a true, multi-million-year
“explosion” and what environmental changes might have driven this
diversification.

We may be on the verge of some big help in answering these
questions, as scientists are announcing the discovery of a
spectacular deposit of Cambrian fossils from south China. The
fossils include dozens of species, half of which we’ve never seen
before, and appear to represent a previously upsampled ecological
zone. The preservation is such that soft-bodied creatures like
jellyfish, and the softer body parts of creatures with shells, can
easily be made out in the rocks. Best yet, the researchers who
uncovered the samples suggest that rocks from the same formation
are widespread in China.

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
Spectacular trove of Cambrian fossils uncovered in China