Shortlisted entries 2013

Your eely ancestor

Your eely ancestorYour eely ancestor
Robert Sansom

High up in the Rocky Mountains of Canada is the Burgess Shale, a unique fossil site that yields a diverse array of ancient and enigmatic organisms. The fossilized fauna shed light on the rapid early flowering of animal life on Earth 500 million years ago (the Cambrian Explosion). Amongst the odd looking arthropods and truly bizarre worms is Pikaia, a fairly humble animal of eel like appearance. It does, however, possess characteristic muscles along its body and a rod-like backbone precursor. This is the earliest chordate – the group to which you and I and all other vertebrates belong. Studying Burgess Shale fossils in light of their mechanisms of preservation and evolutionary relationships, enables us to reconstruct this fundamental evolutionary event, the nature of evolutionary processes, and the appearance of our earliest ancestors from deep time.

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