The Cambrian were a time of living, wonderful life. Fossil-packed places such as the Burgess Shale in Canada have revealed the unique nature of early animals about 508 million years ago. The strange creatures that are in the rock are so well preserved that the ancient deposit seemed like a rarity, showing the unusual attachments and body shapes of time.
In the century since the Burgess Shale discovery, but other fossil suburbs of similar age have been discovered elsewhere on the planet. The latest to be recognized was found in southern China: Qingjiang Biota.
In a newspaper published today in the journal Science Paleontologist Dongjing Fu of Xian's Northwestern University and colleagues describes the fossil cambrian periods. At 51
Dozens of these species have never seen before. "What makes Qingjaing especially compared to other cambriuma sites with soft parts preserved, such as Burgess Shale and Chengjiang Biota [in southern China] is the fact that there are over fifty percent completely new taxis of animals and algae previously unknown to science," says Paleontologist Allison Daley University of Lausanne Even better, she notes that the fossils are of "exceptionally exceptional quality", which preserves the anatomy of the species without any of the natural distortions that sometimes result from the fossilization process. a bank of the Danshui River, near its intersection with Qingjiang River, Hubei Province, China.
(Dong King Fu)
"It shows how we have these small windows back to the past and how to find another site can change what we know," said University of Bristol paleontologist Jakob Vinther.
Some of the most beautiful specimens from the site are soft body parts that do not easily enter the geological record. "The presence of so many amazing cnidarians was an absolute pleasure to see," says Daley, referring to jellyfish and sea anemones that thrived in this ancient ecosystem and are some of the most important fossils that make Qingjiang Biota stand out. "The significance of this site is how it fills several gaps in knowledge of important animal groups," including cnidarians, strange invertebrates called "clay dragons" and camellia. Representatives of all these groups still live today, making them some of the oldest and most successful animals in the world.
This wealth of free body parts has not been visible in other Cambrian sites. "The diversity of cnidarians and ctenophores and fungi seems to be unique and can therefore give us many clues to the origin and development of these groups that other places could not," Vinther says.
The obvious flash fossilization of Qingjiang Biota preserves an entire collection of species, as close as paleontologists can get back in time to 518 million years ago. "The fact that the taxi composition is so different from other places will also reveal the properties that affect which taxi lives together in the same place at the same time," says Daley, "and shows us information about their ecological interactions".  Qingjiang Biota also adds a new twist to the ongoing fossil debate on the Cambrian explosion. The "explosion" was a dramatic diversification of life during the Cambrian period, but paleontologists are still discussing whether the evolutionary event was a real sudden change or whether it simply looked like incomplete fossil sampling. While Qingjiang Biota does not necessarily solve the debate, Daley says, it adds the image of amazing evolutionary radiation during the Cambrian.
That Qingjiang Biota is about the size of the neighboring Chengjiang Biota, but contains many previously unknown species, indicates that the Cambrian is hosting more unusual organisms than paleontologists previously imagined. The diversity of life at that time could be a signal of a much earlier evolutionary activity that gave rise to many new species preserved in places such as Qingjiang and Burgess Shale.
The study of Dongjing Fu and colleagues is a preliminary report, announcing the discovery of many species not yet to be named and intensively studied. There may also be more fossils out there. The researchers note that the geological formation in which Qingjiang Biota is located can be found elsewhere in China and can provide additional fossils.
The identities and interactions of the Qingjiang Biota creatures have not yet fully come into focus. Currently, they offer a new window to a time we know little about, and Daley says, "I can't wait to see detailed studies on these amazing fossils in the future."
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