The revolutionary discovery dates back 565 million years.  These traces of life are truly rare

Wales is not just a land of forests, fields, lakes and wilderness. It's also a real geological gem that we only recently discovered. At the Coed Cochion quarry on the Llangynog Inlier research site, we can find the remains of a former shallow marine reservoir. In local settlements we can find traces of strange forms of life.

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We are specifically talking about animals that resemble jellyfish, sometimes ferns, and in other cases heads of cabbage. Until now, it was only known that these were relics from the late Proterozoic era (more than 550 million years ago). At that time, organic life was limited only to the seas, where only soft-tissue organisms (no shells, bones, shells, etc.) swam.

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In ecological terms (ecology is the study of relationships between the environment and organisms), this meant that predation did not yet exist and there was no need to “arm ourselves” against the attack of another creature. There is no doubt that the finds at Coed Cochion are one of the most interesting, and their careful dating may be useful in correlation with other similar sites in the world.

Location of the Llangyong Inlier outcrop in Wales on the left and location in relation to other rock layers on the right / Source: https://doi.org/10.1144/jgs2023-081CC-BY-4.0

Traces of life before the Cambrian explosion continue to interest paleontologists. What did he discover in Wales?

Scientists from Curtin School of Earth and Planetary Sciences Published in Journal of the Geological Society Isotope research results from a Welsh quarry. They performed micro-dating of uranium and lead on zircon and rutile samples, which were recovered from layers of volcanic rock immediately adjacent to marine sediments in the outcrop profile.

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It was found that the average age of a single zircon grain exposed to thermal ionization and ionization by mass spectrometry was 564.09 million years, with an error of 0.7 million years. This information allows Welsh fossils to be compared with others. First of all, this is a conclusive confirmation that we are dealing here with traces of the Ediacaran fauna – a specific community of organisms without a skeleton and of unknown origin.

Examples of fossils from Ediacaran animals discovered in a Welsh quarry/source: https://doi.org/10.1144/jgs2023-081CC-BY-4.0

Their remains are known, for example, from Western Australia. These fossils represent the period before the Cambrian explosion, which included the production of protective parts. The difficulty in analyzing Ediacaran faunal prints is that only some distinct prints have been preserved, which is difficult to interpret. Aside from visual comparisons to modern vegetables or plants, it is not really known whether these are the ancestors of fish, arthropods, echinoderms, or cnidarians.

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Therefore, the exposure in the quarry was included in the list of the most important sites containing the remains of Proterozoic fauna. Knowing the exact time frame of this place will make it much easier for subsequent teams of paleontologists to draw conclusions about the evolution of life during such a unique “first geological day” that saw a major change in ecosystems at the beginning of the Cambrian.

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