Hubei's 'Fossil Mother Lode' Dates Back 518 Million Years

By Ruth Ilott, March 29, 2019

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A vast array of rare fossils have been discovered in Hubei province, according to a research paper published in Science on March 22.

The roughly 518-million-year-old site, named Qiangjiang biota, was first uncovered in 2007 and is made up of stunningly preserved soft-bodied organisms, from jellyfish and comb jellies to arthropods and algae. The rare discovery was made on a bank of the Danshui River near the junction with Qingjiang River, 1,050 kilometers north of Chengjiang city.

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Image via @我是科学家iScientist/WeChat

So far, the research team, led by paleontologist Fu Dongjing of Northwest University in Xi’an, have analyzed 4,351 specimens from the new site, representing 101 different taxa or groups of organisms. More than half of these findings were discovered by the team and had never been previously observed.  “I can see a bright future,” says Fu. “Qingjiang will be the next Burgess Shale.”

READ MORE: Uncovering China's Illegal Dinosaur Fossil Trade

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One fossil showing the fine detail in which these organisms have been naturally preserved. Image via @我是科学家iScientist/WeChat

The Burgess Shale, an enormous deposit of fossil-bearing rocks in the Canadian Rockies, is renowned for its exquisite collection of soft-bodied organisms.

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An artist recreation of the Cambria Explosion. Image via @我是科学家iScientist/WeChat

Qingjiang biota has been noted for its “extreme abundance of fossil material” and “its beautifully preserved structure.” 

“The fossils are pristine and untouched by metamorphism or weathering, making them exceptionally good candidates for studying the fossilization processes that preserved the tissues in such extraordinary detail,” commented Allison C. Daley, a paleontologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, who wasn’t involved in the study. “To find a site where over half is brand-new is pretty unexpected – we felt that we had a pretty good handle on diversity at this time. It’s really, really exciting!”

It is believed that this recent biota will add new information to the development and evolution of life during the Cambrian Explosion, a short geological period that saw unprecedented growth in animal diversity on Earth around 541 million years ago.

READ MORE: 70-Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Eggs Found in Foshan

[Cover image via @光明日报/Weibo]

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