Massive Treasure Trove of Rare, Previously-Unknown Fossils Found in China

Paleontologists have excavated around 30,000 fossils dating back to the Cambrian period 518 million years ago. 53 percent of these are totally new to science.

A sensational discovery has been made by scientists in South China.

During excavations in a shale next to the Danshui River, paleontologists have excavated more than 30,000 fossils which are believed to date back to the Cambrian period, some 518 million years ago.

Soft-bodied creatures discovered belonging to the Qingjiang biota. Image Credit: Fu et al., Science, 209.
Soft-bodied creatures discovered belonging to the Qingjiang biota. Image Credit: Fu et al., Science, 209.

The discovery is expected to shed light on the mysterious lifeforms that existed on Earth nearly half-a-billion years ago.

According to initial reports, scientists have successfully analyzed 4,351 specimens and identified 101 multicellular species as well as eight algae.

The fascinating part is that 53 percent of these are totally new to science, the reason why the discovery can help scientists understand more about the enigmatic explosion of animal life on Earth, hundreds of millions of years ago.

Collectively, the lifeforms are referred to as the Qingjiang biota.

“It is a huge surprise that such a large proportion of species in this fossil assemblage are new to science,” explained Robert Gaines, a geologist on the team from Pomona College in Claremont, California.

Image Credit: Fu et al., Science, 2019.
Image Credit: Fu et al., Science, 2019.

The fossilized organisms date back to a time when Earth experienced a massive explosion of life. Scientists refer to that period as the Cambrian explosion.

The event is thought to have marked the arrival of all manner of unusual creatures.

Scientists argue that the Cambrian explosion saw many creatures go extinct as evolutionary dead-ends, but other organisms went on to form the first sturdy branches of the tree of life.

“It’s an exciting discovery,” says Jean-Bernard Caron, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto who wasn’t involved in the study.

During the Cambrian Period, life diversified extremely fast.

New lifeforms appeared in a ‘boom of life’ in a very short period of time, the reason why experts call it the Cambrian explosion.

The find “shows that there’s hope for new discoveries” of other Cambrian fossil sites, explains Caron.

As noted by Science, such discoveries represent snapshots of life on Earth millions of years ago, and no one site can portray the true diversity of life on Earth at any given time, Caron explains.

“It’s a giant jigsaw puzzle, and we only have a few pieces…. But the more pieces we have, the better chance we have to understand life during that time.”

Science News
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