PerspectivePaleontology

A treasure trove of Cambrian fossils

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Science  22 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6433, pp. 1284-1285
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw8644

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Summary

One of the most important discoveries in paleontological history was the Burgess Shale in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, discovered in 1909 by Charles Walcott. At this 508 million–year-old fossil locality, soft-bodied fossils are exquisitely preserved, showing skin, eyes, and internal organs such as guts and brains. The Burgess Shale and similar localities found since—including the equally diverse and important Chengjiang biota of China (1), numerous other sites in China (2), and the Emu Bay Shale in Australia (3)—record the sudden appearance of a huge diversity of animals in a geologically short period of time, an event called the Cambrian Explosion (4). On page 1338 of this issue, Fu et al. (5) reveal a stunning new locality, the Qingjiang biota, which is slightly older (518 million years) than the Burgess Shale. The fossils from the site fill gaps in our knowledge and raise questions about the earliest animal ecosystems.