[Press and Publications] 511 Million Year Old Fossils from England Provide Evidence for the Earliest Known Occurrence of Crustacean Animals

July 2001

No. 89


Fossils discovered in the County of Shropshire, in the Welsh Borderland, have provided scientists with the evidence for the earliest known occurrence of crustaceans, the major group that includes such well known animals as crabs, lobsters, shrimps and barnacles. These fossils are also the oldest known find of an animal with its body and complement of limbs preserved in three-dimensions. The discovery helps build up the picture of the early evolution of life.

The find was made by Professor David Siveter from the Department of Geology at the University of Leicester and Dr Mark Williams of the British Geological Survey, Nottingham. Together with a colleague from the University of Ulm, Germany, they have published their findings in the leading American scientific journal Science this week.

The tiny crustacean fossils, less than a millimetre in size, were recovered with acid techniques from limestone rocks belonging to the Cambrian period of geological time and are about 511 million years old. At that time much of Wales and central England were covered by a shallow sea. Professor Siveter said that, A really exciting aspect of these fossils is that they are preserved complete with their soft-parts such as limbs and they are in three-dimensions, so we can examine aspects of their biology and discuss their relationship to various major groups of animals in detail. Such is the quality of preservation that we have hair-like structures on the limbs that are less than a hundredth of a millimetre in size. The discovery identifies an important, geologically early source of exceptionally well-preserved fossils and holds potential for finds of other types of animals with soft-parts from the same locality.

NOTE TO NEWSDESK: For more information, please contact Mark Williams. His contact telephone numbers are: 0115 936 3561 (office direct) or 0115 9363100 (BGS switchboard) or 0115 936 3497.

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