An "extraordinary" secret fossil spot in Wales contains the preserved eyes and brains of 462 million-year-old creatures hidden amidst a hoard of unknown species, a new study finds.
Last year, weird "bramble snout" fossils were documented at the site called "Castle Bank," but new research published May 1 in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution describes the whole fossil deposit.
Hosting a myriad of soft-bodied marine creatures and their organs, which are scarcely preserved in the fossil record, the site resembles the world-renowned Cambrian deposits of Burgess Shale in Canada and Qingjiang biota in China. The rocks of Castle Bank, however, are 50 million years younger and give researchers a unique window into how soft-bodied life diversified in the Ordovician Period (485.4 million to 443.8 million years ago), according to a statement released by Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales.
Researchers believe they've recovered more than 170 species from the site, most of which are new to science. These include what appear to be late examples of Cambrian groups, including the weirdest wonders of evolution, the nozzle-nosed opabiniids, and early examples of animals that evolved later, including barnacles, shrimp and an unidentified six-legged insect-like creature. The rocks are also home to the fossilized digestive systems of trilobites and the eyes and brain of an unidentified arthropod, as well as preserved worms and sponges.
"Every time we go back, we find something new, and sometimes it's something truly extraordinary," Joseph Botting, an independent researcher and honorary research fellow at Amgueddfa Cymru, said in the statement. "There are a lot of unanswered questions, and this site is going to keep producing new discoveries for decades."
Botting and co-author Lucy Muir discovered the site near their home in Llandrindod Wells during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. The exact location is a secret for the site's protection and by request of the landowner, but the authors describe it as a small quarry within a sheep field.
The pair spent more than 100 days at the site, carefully extracting the fossils as the landowner's sheep watched them work. "The sheep appear to have found us interesting, rather than disruptive," the authors wrote in a reporting summary attached to the study.
Botting and Muir are both independent researchers and not employed as academics, so they crowdfunded to buy a microscope to study the fossils in more detail, many of which were at most 0.1 inch (3 millimeters) long, according to a statement released by the pair. They then teamed up with an international team of colleagues to complete the newly published research.
The ecosystem preserved at Castle Bank may have been a nursery for young animals, with only juvenile examples of the most common trilobite species — named Ogyginus corndensis — found at the site. However, the study authors also noted that the small size of the fossils, in general, was "striking" and may simply be a feature of the community of animals that lived there.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Patrick Pester is a freelance writer and previously a staff writer at Live Science. His background is in wildlife conservation and he has worked with endangered species around the world. Patrick holds a master's degree in international journalism from Cardiff University in the U.K.
Preservation of fossilized brains is exceptional. Fossilized eyes are not. The trilobites all had very exceptionally preserved eyes. With lenses made of perfect C-axis crystallographically oriented calcite that precluded the double vision that calcite produces. Nothing in the fossil record even comes close to that remarkable evolutionary event back in the early Paleozoic. Even those fossilized brains are preserved as mineral, not as organic matter.Reply
There is more to eyes than just the lenses. If brains are preserved then perhaps delicate structures within the eyes are as well! It could tell scientists about evolutionary relationships for one thing.Broadlands said:Preservation of fossilized brains is exceptional. Fossilized eyes are not. The trilobites all had very exceptionally preserved eyes. With lenses made of perfect C-axis crystallographically oriented calcite that precluded the double vision that calcite produces. Nothing in the fossil record even comes close to that remarkable evolutionary event back in the early Paleozoic. Even those fossilized brains are preserved as mineral, not as organic matter.
Delicate organic structures and chemical changes in the calcite lens compositions have already been documented in trilobites. Each lens is a single crystal with highly preferred C-axis orientation covered by a thin cornea. In modern arthropods like isopods the calcite crystals are random. Not sure about brain preservations.Reply
You know, I find it interesting that the preferred theory of evolution is always thrown out there as a catch-all. I mean, if one would really seriously mull it over, why did all of these creatures supposedly evolve from others? Intelligent design would probably be a more accurate theory if one would call it that. The supposed fossil records would be impossible to connect as far as one species to another. The plausibility of life forms going from single cell to multicell to land foragers and then back to Sea living foragers. And somehow, plant life evolved from this same process is mathematically in calculable! If, it was that easy, why hasn't the scientific community been able to reproduce even rudimentary evolutionary processes? And, since evolution would take the path of least resistance, how or why would reproduction evolve from mitosis to meiosis? Meiosis is light years more complicated than mitosis. What would the process be? It's easy to throw out suppositions, one could expound on all of these theoretic ideas or opinions that would come to their mind, but there are no logical arguments or consequential evidence to produce an absolute scientific path to prove said process rather than just alluding to it!Reply
The fossil record (especially that in the flat-lying rocks of the Grand Canyon) are undeniable proof of biological evolution. What concerns you are the mechanisms. An entirely different problem and discussion. It's worth adding that the evolution of both the higher animals and higher plants required two new amino acids not in the 20 of the genetic code. And remarkably the exact same four enzyme cofactors. This just adds to the mystery of the mechanisms, but does not detract from the fossil evidence.Reply
It's not impossible. Paleontologists do it regularly.Johnnyreddogg said:The supposed fossil records would be impossible to connect as far as one species to another.
Why? Plant and animal cells have many similarities due to sharing a (very) distant common ancestor. No sexual reproduction at the time though so any evolving that happened had to rely on mutations.Johnnyreddogg said:And somehow, plant life evolved from this same process is mathematically in calculable!
It has. Drug resistant bacteria springs to mind. Or this: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/02/evolution-in-real-time/Johnnyreddogg said:why hasn't the scientific community been able to reproduce even rudimentary evolutionary processes?
There's nothing inherently intelligent about how life works. One has only to look at the human eye (and many other body parts) to see that if there's a designer behind it then intelligent it is not!