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Understanding early life has been one of the hottest topics in palaeobiology for many years, attracting some of the finest palaeontological minds. Three of the most fundamental innovations in the history of life were the appearance of the first cells, the evolution of multi-cellularity and the evolution of animals. The MOFAOTYOF principle (my oldest fossils are older than your oldest fossils) commonly clouds discussions around the oldest fossil evidence, requiring a rigorous and critical approach to determining which fossils are reliable and should form the basis of our understanding of early life. In addition, evidence for early fossils must be considered within their spatial context; we need to understand the conditions under which they were preserved and how they were preserved. This book summarizes recent progress in the fields of: (1) the cellular preservation of early microbial life; and (2) the early evolution of macroscopic animal life, including the Ediacaran biota. Deciphering the evidence for early life requires some degree of exceptional preservation, employment of state-of-the-art techniques and also an understanding gleaned from Phanerozoic lagerstätte and modern analogues. This integrated approach to understanding fossils, combined with adoption of the null hypothesis that all putative traces of life are abiotic until proved otherwise, characterized the work of Martin Brasier, as is well demonstrated by the papers in this book.

Supplementary material: A chronological listing of all Martin Brasier’s publications is available at

Gold Open Access: This article is published under the terms of the CC-BY 3.0 license.

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