Fossil find of ancient life 'nursery'

July 10, 2012 at 4:10 PM   |   Comments

OXFORD, England, July 10 (UPI) -- A volcanic eruption some 579 million years ago buried and fossilized a "nursery" of the some of the world's earliest animals, British scientists say.

Researchers from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, in collaboration with the Memorial University of Newfoundland, discovered more than 100 fossils in Newfoundland rocks of what are believed to be "baby" rangeomorphs, bizarre frond-shaped organisms that lived 580 million to 550 million years ago that were unlike any creature alive today,

The fossils are evidence of life from the mysterious Ediacaran period, 635 million to 542 million years ago, in which the first animals -- complex multi cellular organisms -- appeared, an Oxford release reported Monday.

Exactly where rangeomorphs, often described as "fern-like," fit in the tree of life is unclear, the researchers said.

They are not thought to be plants but may not have had all of the characteristics of animals, they said.

"The fossilized 'babies' we found are all less than three centimeters (1 inch) long and are often as small as six millimeters (0.2 inches), many times smaller than the 'parent' forms, seen in neighboring areas, which can reach up to two meters (6 feet) in length," Oxford researcher Martin Brasier said.

"We think that, around 579 million years ago, an underwater 'nursery' of baby Ediacaran fronds was overwhelmed, Pompeii-style, by an ash fall from a volcanic eruption on a nearby island that smothered and preserved them for posterity."

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