(CNN) Well-preserved fossils of tiny worms, starfish, sponges, barnacles and other unparalleled creatures in a quarry in Wales paint a picture of life on Earth 462 million years ago.
It was a critical time in the planet’s history when there was almost no life on Earth, but animals and algae flourishing in the seas.
The Castle Bank fossil site near Llandrindod Wells in Powys is remarkable because of the time period it captures and because the fossils show soft tissues like eyes, nerves, intestines and the brain preserved as films of carbon in the mudstone, according to a new report. Paper published in the journal nature and its evolution on monday.
The site offers a fuller picture of the diversity of life in the deep past – not just the animals with hard shells and bones commonly found as fossils.
Joseph Botting, an author of the study and honorary research fellow at the Amjidva Cymru Museum in Wales, first discovered a sponge at the site in 2013 and has collected some similar fossils over the years — but he hasn’t conducted an in-depth study of the site.
In April 2020, with the time allowed by the Covid-19 lockdown, he returned to the excavation site, near his home, and discovered a piece of rock that “had things with claws in it”.
“I basically didn’t sleep that night. Once you find that kind of soft tissue, you know anything can dissolve. So at that point We knew it was going to be important.”
The fossils date back to a time period known as the Ordovician when life was getting more and more complex. The Early Cambrian saw the origins of animals but by the end of the Ordovician the Earth was home to more and more variety. diverse ecosystems.
Most of the 170 animals discovered so far from the fossil site were small (1-5 millimeters) and many of them were either completely soft-bodied when alive or had tough skin or an exoskeleton. The vast majority of species appear to be completely unknown.
While other soft-bodied creatures from the past have been preserved in a similar way, most notably in the Burgess Shale deposits in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, Castle Bank dates back 50 million years later in the Middle Ordovician.
“There is no similar site of the same age. It’s quite a unique site,” said Lucy Muir, study co-author and honorary research fellow at the Amjidva Cymru Museum in Wales.
Muir and Botting, who are married, said they also wanted to highlight the contribution of their local community to the discovery. A crowdfunding project to purchase microscopy equipment helped identify the animals and understand the importance of the site.
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