Abstract

Ediacaran trace fossils are becoming an increasingly less common component of the total Precambrian fossil record as structures previously interpreted as trace fossils are reinterpreted as body fossils by utilizing qualitative criteria. Two morphotypes, Form E and Form F of Glaessner (1969), interpreted as trace fossils from the Ediacara Member of the Rawnsley Quartzite in South Australia are shown here to be body fossils of a single, previously unidentified tubular constructional morphology formally described herein as Somatohelix sinuosus n. gen. n. sp. S. sinuosus is 2–7 mm wide and 3–14 cm long and is preserved as sinusoidal casts and molds on the base of beds. Well-preserved examples of this fossil preserve distinct body fossil traits such as folding, current alignment, and potential attachment to holdfasts. Nearly 200 specimens of this fossil have been documented from reconstructed bedding surfaces within the Ediacara Member. When viewed in isolated hand sample, many of these specimens resemble ichnofossils. However, the ability to view large quantities of reassembled and successive bedding surfaces within specific outcrops of the Ediacara Member provides a new perspective, revealing that isolated specimens of rectilinear grooves on bed bases are not trace fossils but are poorly preserved specimens of S. sinuosus. Variation in the quality and style of preservation of S. sinuosus on a single surface and the few distinct characteristics preserved within this relatively indistinct fossil also provides the necessary data required to define a taphonomic gradient for this fossil. Armed with this information, structures which have been problematic in the past can now be confidently identified as S. sinuosus based on morphological criteria. This suggests that the original organism that produced this fossil was a widespread and abundant component of the Ediacaran ecosystem.

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