On the News | Mattresses, the Universe and Everything: fossils of Ediacaran biota @ The Guardian

On the News @ The Guardian


Mattresses, the Universe and Everything: fossils of Ediacaran biota


A typical specimen of Dickinsonia costata: a genus of iconic fossils of the Ediacaran biota. Their bilaterally symmetrical ribbed oval shape may have given them a mattress-like appearance. Photograph: Picasa 2.6/Wikimedia Commons (@source)

“In Life, the Universe and Everything, Douglas Adams has left Marvin the Paranoid Android stranded and walking in circles (literally) on Sqornshellous Zeta. This is a swampy planet, where the dominant life form is the mattress. Marvin chats with Zem, a perky and affable pocket-sprung mattress, who encourages him to be ‘more mattressy*’. In an infinite universe, Adams tells us, very few things are manufactured, since everything has evolved somewhere, including mattresses. They are harvested and shipped out to be slept on across the galaxy.

Douglas Adams certainly liked to play around with ideas in evolution. The unlikely evolution of the babel fish was the cause of a theological existential crisis, and his bureaucratic and bad-tempered Vogons were effectively disowned by evolution as soon as they left the primordial seas of Vogsphere. What I don’t know is whether Douglas Adams had ever read about the Ediacaran biota: fossils from a time when Earth was, briefly, the planet of the mattresses.

The Ediacaran period spans nearly 100 million years below the base of the Cambrian period, 542 million years ago. Its upper boundary is defined by the appearance of preserved complex burrows (evidence of “modern” animal behaviour), while its base is marked by the end of a global, 15-million-year glaciation event. In between those two marker points, life was quite, well, mattressy.

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These fossils were first studied from the Ediacara Hills of the Flinders Ranges, north of Adelaide, Australia in the 1940s. Similar assemblages were soon discovered in the Leicestershire in the UK, Newfoundland, Canada, and Namibia, and are now known worldwide, They are imprints of what, in the absence of any mineralised body parts, appear to be soft bodies, but usually preserved on the undersides of slabs of coarse-grained rocks like sandstone and quartzite, with no organic matter preserved.” (…) READ MORE

Lurdes Fonseca

Assistant Professor and Researcher at University of Lisbon
Sociologist (PhD), Paleontologist (Researcher in Micropaleontology), Majors in Sociology and Biology, Minor in Geology. Main interests in Paleontology: Microfossils, Molecular fossils, Paleobiology and Paleoecology. (read more about me)