26. Origin of Life on Earth       Previous PageNext Page
       Precambrian Fossils

Only a few years ago, the expression "Precambrian fossils" would have been considered almost a contradiction in terms.

At the beginning of the Cambrian era, 600 million years ago, there was a veritable explosion in the fossil record. Every major branch of modern animal life was present at the start of the Cambrian era except vertebrates. Geologists even define and identify the beginning of the Cambrian era by this sudden increase in volume of the fossil record.

Prior to 600 million years ago the fossil record quickly shrinks to almost nothing. Jellyfish and other softbodied marine life from 900 million to 600 million years ago are known from deposits in Australia and a few other places.

Much of the trouble is that these creatures are soft-bodied. Jellyfish do not preserve well in the fossil record in comparison with shellfish. Part of the Cambrian explosion is not a sudden burst of life, but a sudden increase in the use of hard, protective materials such as shells and body armor.

No matter what the reason, most paleontologists only a few years ago considered that little was to be learned from the fossil record prior to this Cambrian population explosion.


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