Resting in an unusually well-preserved fossil bed in a remote southern Australian mountain range, researchers have recently unearthed two fossils which date back to the earliest days of life on planet Earth, according to USA Today. Both fossil remains are near-relatives to the well-known Dickensonia genus from the Ediacaran period of history, which spans from roughly 635 million years ago to about 530 million years ago. Both fossils have been named after famous individuals who have contributed to the passionate promotion of science as a field of study and as a field of interest.
Obamus coronatus is the name given to one of the fossils found, a disc-shaped creature that measures between a half centimeter and two centimeters in diameter bearing raised whirling grooves on its surface. Obamus coronatus did not appear to be mobile or possess any real motive power, rather it was ingrained into the ocean mat, a thick layer of organic materials that covered the early ocean floor, according to the University of California-Riverside. Named after former President Barack Obama and his history of support for the physical sciences, the fossil is all that remains of the ancient soft-bodied animal.
The second sample discovered belongs to what is now known as Attenborites janeae. A bit different from Obamus coronatus, Attenborites janeae measured not quite a centimeter across and was clearly in the rough shape of an oval. Pitted with internal grooves and ridges resembling that of a dried grape or raisin, this fossil was named in honor of famed naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.
A scientific team headed up by researchers with the University of California-Riverside discovered the remains of two new identifiable genera and published their findings – at least on one of the fossils, Obamus coronatus – last week in the Australian Journal of Earth Sciences. The research featuring the fossil Attenborites janeae will be subsequently published by AJES shortly. The lead on the targeted study was UCR professor of paleontology Dr. Mary Droser, who was enthusiastic about her team’s findings.
“I’ve been working in this region for 30 years, and I’ve never seen such a beautifully preserved bed with so many high quality and rare specimens, including Obamus and Attenborites,” Droser said. “The AJES issue on the Flinders Ranges will support South Australia’s effort to obtain World Heritage Site status for this area, and this new bed demonstrates the importance of protecting it.”
The Flinders Ranges are the mountain ranges responsible for producing so many high-quality fossils from the Ediacaran Biota so many hundreds of millions of years ago. Their remains, ensconced in the soft sandstone of southern Australia, has born so much fruit that the fossil bed responsible has been nicknamed “Alice’s Restaurant Bed” – a play on the 1960’s folk recording by Arlo Guthrie containing the lyrics, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.”