‘On the Dawn of the Cambrian Explosion of Life’

The North West Highlands Geopark is a UNESCO site. It contains rocks that are 3,000million years old. For the earliest geologists it provided an insight into how the world about us came to be formed. It fascinated them just as it continues to do so for us today.

Credit Bell

Like everywhere else the Geopark has had to move its events online and whilst we might not be able to physically travel to this wonderful area it does mean that wherever we live we can access informative talks.

Dr Frankie Dunn a paleontologist and Research Fellow at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Merton College presented ‘On the Dawn of the Cambrian Explosion of Life: The Scottish fossil evidence’.

This learned but accessible talk led us through time starting with ‘The Tree of Life’. Her slides showed images of seascapes from pre-Cambrian times with life forms that appear very unfamiliar.

Carefully Dr Dunn led us through the discoveries made that have been filling in the missing details in the fossil record. In particular the Charnia masoni which was a frond made up of branches within branches within branches etc. She explored how these branches grew and how it added new branches.

Turning to the North West Highlands Geopark Dr Dunn explained about trace fossils, body fossils and small shelly fossils.

Trace fossils record animal behaviour. Skolithos is an important Cambrian index fossil. These are burrows but it cannot be said with any certainty what made them, explained Dr Dunn.

Body fossils described by Dr Dunn included the extremely rare spatangopsis scotia, a pentameral fossil and psammocorallia which was a sand coral. Then we have the very recognisable trilobites.

Small shelly fossils are the remnants of lots of different animals – some will be extinct and some will be forms that still exist today.

Dr Frankie Dunn gave us a fascinating account of the search for answers to this mixture of the recognisable and unfamiliar forms in the mysteries of the early Cambrian period . Her suggestion which she put forward was that these are the transitional forms for what was to develop.

Click on the link if you would like to watch more of the talks from the West Highland Geopark

credit Bell

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

Archived story: The Western Isles – or There and Back Again (II)

Categories: Science

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