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Bulldozers threaten what may be the world’s oldest animal fossils
“Paleontologists have argued for years about the identity of the enigmatic curling shapes and embryolike spheres found in the 600-million-year-old rocks of the Doushantuo Formation in China. But some say those fossils, no bigger than a grain of salt, may be the remains of some of the world’s first animals. Now researchers fear that the rock formation may be pulverized, along with its cargo of fossils, before scientists can identify the creatures and what they may reveal about the evolution of animals. A massive phosphate mining operation in southern China threatens the site, and scientists are urging the Chinese government to step in to protect it.
The mining operations, which produce raw material for fertilizer, are already destroying unique fossil evidence at a distressing rate, says Zhu Maoyan, fossil expert and professor at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology in China. The site, with its mysterious Weng’an biota, is located in rural Guizhou, a Chinese province bordering Vietnam. Piecemeal phosphate mining has taken place there for years, but a large-scale project that began in 2015 could wipe out the entire site, including a wealth of as-yet-undiscovered fossils—a “disaster [to] all human beings,” Zhu says. The mining project already has demolished one of the three key fossil sites, he says.
“If you want to know about how animals evolved on Earth, this site is the most important one we know of,” says David Bottjer, earth sciences professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who has been visiting the Weng’an site to collect fossils since 1999, a year after their discovery. “If this fossil deposit is lost, we will lose this unique window on evolution of life, which may never be replaced.”” (…) READ MORE
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