Paleontology

Large Early Life Forms

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Science  17 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5605, pp. 311
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5605.311a

The Ediacaran fauna represent the first complex multicellular fossils—some are a meter or more in length—preceding the Cambrian, when a wide variety of forms including shelly fossils evolved. The oldest Ediacaran fossils have been considered to be about 565 million years old, although there have been some hints of earlier complex fossils, particularly phosphotized animal embryos from China.

Narbonne and Gehling have discovered several Ediacaran fossils from Newfoundland that are considerably older, about 580 million years old, and that are found 1500 m stratigraphically below the younger type Ediacaran fossils. These older fossils were preserved in volcanic ash and are almost 2 m long. Furthermore, they lie close to, but above, a prominent glacial deposit that is associated with several major glaciations that affected Earth in the late Precambrian (“snowball Earth” glaciations), providing a potential link between the bottleneck of these glacial events and the appearance of more complex life on Earth. — BH

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