New palynological studies from the Xiaoyangqiao section (Jilin Province, north-east China), which has been selected as an Auxiliary Boundary Stratigraphic Section and Point (ASSP) for the base of the Ordovician, confirms the presence of Goniomorpha Yin 1986 in intervals ranging from the late Cambrian (Furongian) to the Early Ordovician (Tremadocian), and allow us to clarify its morphology and affinities. Despite being compared originally to vesicular microfossils with processes arising from one pole, Goniomorpha lacks an enclosed cavity, so it cannot be classified as an acritarch in the strict sense. Instead, we find that the specimens originally described as Goniomorpha are actually part of a wider spectrum of morphologies that are identifiable as the pharyngeal teeth of priapulid worms. The best-preserved specimens resolve the ‘processes’ as denticles arising from an arch on the margins of a cuticular pad, sometimes with an extending spur and polygonal microstructure. Closely equivalent forms have been reported from Cambrian assemblages of small carbonaceous fossils (SCFs) and in situ on Burgess Shale specimens of the priapulid Ottoia. The findings from the Xiaoyangqiao section extend the taphonomic range of Cambrian-type SCFs into the Ordovician, and provide the first evidence for priapulids from the Ordovician of northern China. More generally, our results demonstrate the reciprocal insights from palynological and SCF-type processing for identifying problematic microfossils.

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