Abstract

Discoidal macrofossils reported herein from the lower Cambrian Zabriskie Quartzite (Great Basin, western United States) record the oldest Phanerozoic medusozoan body fossils, as well as the oldest medusozoan stranding event on record. Moreover, these fossils provide evidence of a significant shift in the taphonomic mode characteristic of preservation of nonmineralized taxa in coarse-grained siliciclastic successions near the onset of the Phanerozoic. Taphonomic and sedimentological evidence recorded by these and younger examples of stranded Cambrian medusae is consistent in suggesting that several of the requirements for preservation of these fossils were holdovers from the Ediacaran Period, including the presence of microbial mats and a lack of carcass disturbance by scavenging and/or bioturbating taxa. To shed further light upon the taphonomic factors necessary for the preservation of Cambrian medusae, we compared the biostratinomy and sedimentology of Cambrian medusa strandings to those of Ediacara Biota assemblages from lithologically similar successions. We find key secular disparities in the taphonomic histories of these two types of fossil assemblage. Inconsistencies between the preservational styles characteristic of fossil assemblages preserved in sandstone lithofacies on each side of the Precambrian–Cambrian boundary are explained by a considerable change in the preferred depositional setting in which these macrofossil assemblages are preserved. Thus, rather than documenting a single taphonomic continuum through the Precambrian–Cambrian transition, the Zabriskie and younger medusozoan body fossil assemblages record the advent of an entirely new, yet still very rarely exploited, taphonomic window exclusive to the Cambrian Period.

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