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Key moment in the evolution of life on Earth captured in fossils

Research published in the Journal of the Geological Society has for the first time precisely dated some of the oldest fossils of complex multicellular life in the world, helping to track a pivotal moment in the history of Earth when the seas began teeming with new lifeforms - after four billion years of containing only single-celled microbes.

Lead author PhD student Anthony Clarke, from the Timescales of Mineral Systems Group within Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said to determine the age of the fossils, researchers used volcanic ash layers like bookmarks in the geological sequence.

“Located in the Coed Cochion Quarry in Wales, which contains the richest occurrence of shallow marine life in Britain, we used outfall from an ancient volcano that blanketed the animals as a time marker to accurately date the fossils to 565 million years, accurate down to 0.1 per cent,” Mr Clarke said.

“With similar Ediacaran fossils found at sites around the world including in Australia, dating the fossils identifies them as being part of an ancient living community that developed as Earth thawed out from a global ice age.

“These creatures would in some ways resemble modern day marine species such as jellyfish, yet in other ways be bizarre and unfamiliar. Some appear fern-like, others like cabbages, whereas others resembled sea pens.”

Study co-author Professor Chris Kirkland, also from the Timescales of Mineral Systems Group at Curtin, said the fossils are named after the Ediacara Hills in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, where they were first discovered, leading to the first new geological period established in over a century.

“These Welsh fossils appear directly comparable to the famous fossils of Ediacara in South Australia,” Professor Kirkland said.

“The fossils, including creatures like the disc-shaped Aspidella terranovica, showcase some of the earliest evidence of large-scale multicellular organisms, marking a transformative moment in Earth’s biological history.

“Ediacaran fossils record the response of life to the thaw out from a global glaciation, which shows the deep connection between geological processes and biology.

“Our study underscores the importance of understanding these ancient ecosystems in order to unravel the mysteries of Earth’s past and shape our comprehension of life’s evolution.”

The full research paper, ‘U–Pb zircon-rutile dating of the Llangynog Inlier, Wales: constraints on an Ediacaran shallow 1 marine fossil assemblage from East Avalonia’ was published in the Journal of the Geological Society and can be found online here

About the Journal of the Geological Society (JGS) 

JGS publishes topical, innovative and interdisciplinary research with global reach across the full range of Earth and planetary sciences. Regional geological studies of interest to our international readership are also welcomed. Each year JGS presents the ‘JGS Early Career Award' for papers published in the journal, which rewards the writing of well-written, exciting papers from early career geologists. The journal publishes research and invited review articles, discussion papers and thematic collections.

Find out more about the Journal of the Geological Society

American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Geological Society partner on new Open Science book series

AGU has partnered with the Geological Society of London to launch a new Open Science book series called GeoHorizons, which focuses on critical topics in the geosciences.

Earth, space, and planetary research for a sustainable future

The focal point is solution-based science that addresses the many challenges facing humanity and the environment from a geosciences perspective. The books are intended to feature the work of scientists across demographics, geographic locations, professional backgrounds and career stages.

AGU is thrilled to partner with the Geological Society on a book series devoted to sharing insights and solutions from the geosciences community, said Matthew Giampoala, AGU’s vice president of publications.Our shared commitment to making content Open Access will help to ensure a free-flowing exchange of information and insights that will catalyze progress in the field and, ultimately, change the world for the better.

We are delighted to work alongside AGU on a brand-new Open Science book series that supports our shared goal of advancing Earth and planetary science solutions to global societal challenges, said Maggie Simmons, director of publishing at the Geological Society. Open research and collaboration are key to our mission to accelerate scientific progress, promote innovation and increase engagement with science.

AGU and the Geological Society will collaborate on commissioning new titles and marketing published volumes. The Geological Society Publishing House will provide an end-to-end publishing service, including editorial management, peer review, content hosting and distribution.

We believe that books remain a valuable means of collating and presenting scientific material, said Kate Lajtha, editor-in-chief of AGU Books. “In a book you have the space and freedom to present a complete narrative about a topic and bring together different perspectives and content types that would otherwise need to be published in multiple journals. This new opportunity to publish open access books will enable more people to access exciting scientific material.

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Proposals for this new series are welcomed. Find out more here


AGU is a leading scientific publisher with 24 peer-reviewed journals covering the range of Earth and space sciences, from space weather to tectonics and water resources. To date, 12 journals are fully open access, with the other journals slated for transition in the coming years. A book publisher since 1956, AGU also has more than 700 titles to its credit for the purposes of research, learning, teaching and professional development. GeoHorizons is AGU’s first book publishing partnership intended primarily for Open Access.

Founded in 1807, the Geological Society is the oldest geological society in the world and a world-leading communicator of Earth science through scholarly publishing, library and information services, cutting-edge scientific conferences, education activities and outreach to the general public. The Society is one of the largest Earth science book publishers globally. Research from a global authorship is published across eight journals and several well-known book series and is hosted via the Lyell Collection.

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Propose a volume for the GeoHorizons book series