The Precambrian–Phanerozoic and Ediacaran–Cambrian boundaries: a historical approach to a dilemma
Gerd Geyer, Ed Landing, 2017. "The Precambrian–Phanerozoic and Ediacaran–Cambrian boundaries: a historical approach to a dilemma", Earth System Evolution and Early Life: A Celebration of the Work of Martin Brasier, A. T. Brasier, D. McIlroy, N. McLoughlin
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The Cambrian was originally defined as a rock interval with a trilobite-dominated fauna that overlay a presumed biologically barren Precambrian epoch. Work to formally define the Cambrian base arose after the discovery of Precambrian macrofossils in South Australia. The Working Group on the Precambrian–Cambrian Boundary (set up in 1972) promoted an emphasis on an extended pre-trilobitic interval with mineralized skeletal elements (small shelly fossils or early skeletal fossils). The study of early skeletal fossils made the Ulakhan-Sulugur (Siberia) and Meishucun (South China) sections candidates for the basal Cambrian Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP), but difficulties in correlation and the taxonomy of early skeletal fossils did not allow the selection of a reliably correlative horizon. Bilaterian ichnofaunas below the first diverse early skeletal fossils suggested the definition of a Cambrian base GSSP below the early skeletal fossils. Work on the thick, stratigraphically continuous and fairly unifacial sections in the Burin Peninsula, southeastern Newfoundland led in 1992 to an ichnofossil-defined GSSP at Fortune Head. Despite arguments for a revision and redefinition of the lower boundary of the Cambrian System, the best definition of the basal Cambrian GSSP is at Fortune Head and does not rely on the Treptichnus/Trichophycus pedum (abbreviated below as T. pedum) first appearance datum, but rather on the base of the T. pedum Assemblage Zone at the highest occurrence of Ediacaran taxa and in the lower range of T. pedum.
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This volume in memory of Professor Martin Brasier, which has many of his unfinished works, summarizes recent progress in some of the hottest topics in palaeobiology including cellular preservation of early microbial life and early evolution of macroscopic animal life, encompassing the Ediacara biota. The papers focus on how to decipher evidence for early life, which requires exceptional preservation, employment of state-of-the-art techniques and also an understanding gleaned from Phanerozoic lagerstätte and modern analogues. The papers also apply Martin’s MOFAOTYOF principle (my oldest fossils are older than your oldest fossils), requiring an integrated approach to understanding fossils. The adoption of the null-hypothesis that all putative traces of life are abiotic until proven otherwise, and the consideration of putative fossils within their spatial context, characterized the work of Martin Brasier, as is well demonstrated by the papers in this volume.