Discovering the dawn of animal life

Discovering the dawn of animal life

For 25 years, Nilpe­na has been the sum­mer home for world-lead­ing Edi­acara author­i­ty Dr Mary Dros­er whose research con­tin­ues to uncov­er the secrets of life on Earth.

Crouched over gold­en fos­sil beds under the Flinders Ranges sun, Dr Dros­er and her team, along with col­leagues and vol­un­teers from the South Aus­tralia Muse­um, care­ful­ly and metic­u­lous­ly uncov­er the fos­sils of the first forms of ani­mal life – cap­tured in time between rip­ple rocks and sed­i­ment – three-dimen­sion­al snap­shots caught in a type of ancient camera.

Not just indi­vid­ual images, but near-epic geo­log­i­cal movie reels pro­vid­ing the most amaz­ing insight into the ori­gins of ani­mal life in an area that was once an expan­sive shal­low sea with gen­tly rock­ing waves – the old­est fos­silised ani­mal ecosys­tem on Earth.

These are crea­tures that moved, that fed, that repro­duced, and crea­tures that lived in harmony.

There’s Funisia dorothea which she, and col­league Jim Gehling, named after her mum Dorothy; Oba­mus named after the 44th Pres­i­dent of the US; there’s Atten­borites janeae named after world acclaimed con­ser­va­tion­ist and friend Sir David Atten­bor­ough and our State fos­sil emblem, Sprig­gi­na – named after leg­endary Reg Sprig­gs who dis­cov­ered Edi­acara on the north­ern part of Nilpe­na in the 1940s. 

As Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor of Geol­o­gy, Earth and Plan­e­tary Sci­ences at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side, Dr Droser’s work in the field of Edi­acara has tak­en her to Namib­ia and Newfoundland.

Twen­ty-five years ago, trav­el­ling to Nilpe­na over the Out­back cor­ru­ga­tions she was greet­ed by an amaz­ing land­scape of incred­i­ble geo­log­i­cal for­ma­tions, a land of majes­tic gums, of kan­ga­roos and emus, the noisy chat­ter of budgeri­gars break­ing the silence.

Today, near­ly 40 fos­sil­if­er­ous beds have been revealed at Nilpe­na, all by Dr Dros­er and her team get­ting on their hands and knees and look­ing at dif­fer­ent pieces of the fos­sil beds. 

Dr Droser’s amaz­ing work has ben­e­fit­ed from 20 years of fund­ing through a vari­ety of NASA grants. The lat­est grant of more than US$300,000 was award­ed to the team led by Dr Dros­er and Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor Diego C. Gar­cía-Bel­li­do from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Adelaide’s Envi­ron­ment Insti­tute, and the South Aus­tralian Museum.

The three-year project, fund­ed by the Exo­bi­ol­o­gy Pro­gram at NASA, began in Jan­u­ary last year.

Dr Dros­er hopes the procla­ma­tion of the Nilpe­na Edi­acara Nation Park will lead to a wider under­stand­ing of ancient life forms and the how the Flinders Ranges fea­tured so prominently.

It is this type of world-class expe­ri­ence she hopes will serve to con­nect­ing, engage and inspire not only vis­i­tors, but future gen­er­a­tions of palaeon­tol­o­gists, archae­ol­o­gists and geologists.

Want to see it for yourself?

Edi­acaran fos­sils are a key attrac­tion with­in South Australia’s new­ly opened Nilpe­na Edi­acara Nation­al Park, locat­ed in the North­ern Flinders Rangers. 

To ensure the preser­va­tion of this sci­en­tif­ic and cul­tur­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant area, entry to Nilpe­na Edi­acara Nation­al Park is by guid­ed tour only. Book­ings can­not be made at the entrance and must be organ­ised online pri­or to arrival. 

For fur­ther details or to book vis­it: Nilpe­na Edi­acara Nation­al Park

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living