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ImageMap - turn on images 17shipS.jpgIn 1992 and 1993, we set out with our Russian colleagues to go to a place on the White Sea, which is 1000 kilometers north of Moscow and is an arm of the Arctic Ocean. We chartered this vessel, believe it or not, for $400 for two trips up and back, which is a day and a night. This was in the good old days when the Russians really needed $400. The only problem is, you had to take the boat the way it was and the captain was drunk when we arrived early in the morning and he didn't sober up for eight hours, so we couldn't leave until 6:00 in the afternoon, putting us ashore at 3:00 a.m. We took a group of interested people through UC's University Research Expeditions (UREP), and we went up the coast to look at these rocks, the so-called Vendian rocks. 18cliffsS.jpg These rocks looked like the rocks you might see around here from the Miocene age. In fact, they have the same degree of consolidation. In other words, they're not very hard. They contain a whole assemblage of these first animals.

But these are very much later than the things that I just described for you. So these are about a billion years after the appearance of the first indication of Eukaryotes in the fossil record and they're about three billion years after the first evidence for life, bacteria, in the stromatolites in Australia. So you see, the world really was dominated time-wise that way. 19tentS.jpg Here's our camp along the shore of the White Sea. I think this would be a great TV thing because this big mass of foam just came pulsating up onto the beach as a storm was generated on the White Sea; it came pulsating all the way through our camp. It eventually went up this canyon. It's like the primordial soup, at least the frothy part of it, moving up, wiping out our cooking tent with Misha Fedonkin and Jim Valentine. There's our camp up above. Both of those two guys would make good characters too, on TV. And here we are. I guess maybe this wouldn't be too good on NBC, would it? Unless we were doing something weird.

20cliffshoreS.jpg So here's the rock and you can see how crumbly it is, and our group collecting along the shore here. This was an adventure that surely is worth a short segment on TV. One episode on Friends. How many of you have seen Friends? They have a paleontologist on there. That's a good program, right? Believe it or not, I do know one or two paleontologists like that guy on Friends but the rest of us aren't like that. 21cliffgrassS.jpg We actually go out and look for fossils and we look in places along the White Sea like that and like this. 22hexS.jpg The kinds of fossils we found were these kinds of little indentations in the surface of the rock. These are said to be the burrows of sea anemones or sea anemone-like critters. It's called Nemiana. We have other kinds of cnidarians, coelenterates in the old term. For example these jellyfish-like animals23circleS.jpg from rocks, again, probably 580 million years old, maybe 560 million years old. The dating is a little bit bad on these but similar things in other places of the world date at those ages.


Fossil Types

24starS.jpg 25circlesS.jpg Here's another one. This one seems to have tentacles. That's pretty amazing. Here are some other ones. This is one of four different groups of fossils.
  • Medusoid-like fossils
    These so-called medusoid-like fossils, or cnidarian-like fossils--jellyfish and sea anemones. There are other groups, as well, which we'll see in a moment. 26dimpleS.jpg This is kind of a questionable one. It's a little tiny thing, as you can see, and it's got little tentacle-like things, but this could also have been a burrow, if you can imagine it, with an animal down in there putting its tentacles out and feeding on the surface of the mud, dragging its tentacles back, making those marks. That might not be a true body fossil, it might be a trace fossil. So there's a lot to be discovered here still.

  • Frond-like animals
    A second group of organisms are the frond-like animals. 27featherS.jpg Here's a great big one. This is Charnia. These were originally thought to be like sea pens; I still kind of think they're like sea pens. Other people think that they're a completely different group of organisms totally unrelated to any other animals that went extinct after the end of this particular period of time. 28featherCS.jpg Here's another one that we collected. There are a number of different kinds of these frond-like animals. Here's a 29ridgesS.jpg Dickinsonia. These things are really big. You can find them in Australia a meter long with these things going out. We don't really know what that is. It's been speculated to be a kind of cnidarian, as well. 30rowsS.jpgAnd here's yet another one, Pteridinium.. It's got trilateral symmetry. This is one of three lobes of it, but it's still standing up somehow like a frond, feeding presumably on the organisms that are floating in the water, and there were some.

  • Trace fossils
    A third group of fossils in this group of rocks worldwide are trace fossils. 31stemS.jpg Here are some burrowing structures made by some kind of an organism and it made a little furrow in it. These tracks, like that and like these, are your ancestors! This is where all the rest of the metazoans must have come from. They didn't come from the coelenterates, or cnidarians that we see here; that seems to be a dead end. They didn't come from the frond-like animals. They must have come from these things. But we don't find much in the way of fossils for them. 33crossS.jpg Here's some from Southeastern California, from the White-Inyo Mountains, of about the same age. Lots of tracks and traces making loops, presumably slug-like or worm-like animals feeding on the surface. 34worm.jpg Some of them left fecal pellets or filled burrows behind them.

  • Unusual Fossils
    There is a fourth group of organisms besides these three and that's a group that really is not coherent in the sense that the others are as fossils, but these are very unusual things that might actually be body fossils of some kind of higher organism perhaps 35triloS.jpg This thing has a certain resemblance to arthropods. You can see the plate-like scars here. We don't know what it is yet because it hasn't been very well studied but it's been described roughly. Here's another one. 36ovalS.jpg This is called Kimberella. Kimberella made it onto the cover of Earth magazine. This is how I found out that there are 100,000 people that read it. The reason I was interested in it is because my student, Ben Waggoner, and Misha Fedonkin, one of the guys you saw before who we've been collaborating with, have described this as a mollusk, probably, a slug-like creature. You can see here was the foot, there were lateral structures on it, and it was soft-bodied. They now have about a dozen or more, slightly more, impressions of this that look very much like that. So there's a variety of these kinds of fossils that might indicate, in fact, that there were metazoans, fairly highly classified anyway, metazoans, in the fossil record before this great explosion that Darwin was puzzled about and that Time Magazine managed to do a cover on.

Well, around this time there was a group of phytoplankton, photosynthesizing algae and that made cysts, like many algae in oceans do today, and these are fossil cysts. 37vandaloS.jpg This one happens to come from the Chuar Group and it's about 850 million years old. But we see these things throughout this period of time from 1.4 or 1.5 to the base of the Cambrian at 545 million years ago. They are, generally speaking, rather simple in their morphology and you can see little spines. This is the kind of things that all these metazoans may have been feeding on. After all, they need something to eat. There were bacterial mats they could have fed on and then there was phytoplankton. Maybe there were some other things, too, that just didn't fossilize.

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