EDIACARAN FOSSILS: COMPLEX ‘EARLY’ LIFE
There are strange things under the sun, and still stranger things buried under multiple tons of rock. Paleontologists work hard to classify the assortment of ancient critters brought to light, but sometimes the fossils they find defy simple classification. Recent fossil discoveries in China have scientists puzzled about whether the finds are of an ancient plant or an ancient animal. What’s more, some of these creatures have no obvious evolutionary ancestors.
New seaweed-like fossils have been found in the Lantian Formation of China’s southern Anhui Provence, along with fossils that are hard to put into a specific category. One of the new finds could be considered a young polyp or sea anemone. Two others are peculiar cone-like organisms with a bulbous end that has been interpreted as a couple of different things. It could have been a plant’s holdfast used to anchor itself to the ground, or it could have been the proboscis of a worm-like creature. The researchers who published on these discoveries in the February 17 issue of Nature were unwilling to take a dogmatic position on the ancestors or descendants of their discoveries.
“Animals in the Ediacaran Period are almost universally bizarre, and it is very difficult to place them in any modern animal phyla,” researcher Shuhai Xiao, a professor of geobiology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, told LiveScience. “They may be precursors to modern animals or offshoots of modern animals that don’t have any direct descendants.”
There are some interesting items to note about these organisms. The Lantian Formation has been isochron dated to almost 600 million years ago, to the Ediacaran Period at the end of the Proterozoic Era. That’s before even the famous “Cambrian Explosion.” The Cambrian is well known for the sudden appearance of most major phyla of earth’s creatures in the fossil record. Yet, while they show up in the fossil record before the Cambrian, these new soft-bodied creatures are highly complex. Some are similar to modern phyla, like seaweed, while others have no ancestors or descendants to be found. They just don’t fit the expectations of those who believe life evolved step-by-step through history.
Geoscientist Patricia Vickers-Rich of Monash University in Melbourne wrote in GSA Today in 2009, “The Ediacarans contain many taxa with body symmetries unlike those that have come to us via the Phanerozoic, making interpretation a challenge, so much so that the quest for the origin of the major phyla is proving to be problematical.”
What’s more, these relatively large multicellular creatures would have needed an oxygen environment to live and grow. Plants use carbon dioxide during the day while they are photosynthesizing, but they still need to take in oxygen at night when there is no sunlight. Whether they’re plants or animals, these Ediacaran organisms would have required an oxygenated environment. Yet, the rock they were found in has been tested and found to have been anoxic – a paradise for anaerobic bacteria but not for large creatures with oxygen needs like these.
There’s a large diversity of life forms from the Ediacaran Period, but many of these complex creatures simply appear in geological history without known evolutionary relatives.. Scientists argue that only special circumstances would preserve soft-bodied organisms, and their direct descendants and ancestors are assumed to have simply not survived in the fossil record. However, The Encyclopedia Britannica states, “Fossils of Ediacara organisms have been discovered in some 30 localities over five continents, including seven sites in North America.” That’s not a just few spots on the globe. Ediacaran flora and fauna have been preserved in rock layers around the world. Yet we have no actual evidence of how these creatures might have evolved. They just appear, fully formed and amazing.
These newest discoveries are considered even older than another group of Ediacaran fossils known as the rangeomorphs from the Avalon formation, which dated to about 570-565 million years ago. The rangeomorphs are also noted for their odd characteristics that make them difficult to place in the history of life on planet Earth. They, too, just “appear.”
“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.” –Genesis 1:20-21
The Word of God states that the LORD made everything at the beginning. He made the world and everything in it for His pleasure. We should not be surprised to find complex organisms popping up from nowhere in the fossil record.
• New Fossils Push Algal Origins Back to 600 Million Years – ARS Technica
• Plant or Animal? Mysterious Fossils Defy Classification – Live Science
• Painting The Past: From Scientific Research To Art – GSA Today
• Ediacara Fauna – Encyclopedia Britannica
• Geologic Timescale – Encyclopedia Britannica
• Creation – Evolution Studies – Koinonia House