First Life Unveiled in New Fossil Gallery

16 December 2013

3D Designer Jo Bain in the First Life Ediacara Gallery.

Download a PDF of the media release.

After two years of preparation, the South Australian Museum will be ready to offer a new, digital, hands-on experience in its renovated First Life Ediacara Fossils Gallery: a window into the oldest complex life known on the planet. Most of the new gallery is comprised of specimens that have only ever been seen by a handful of scientists, worldwide. 

The South Australian Museum’s talented team of scientists, designers and curators has prepared a unique space that not only allows physical access to these globally significant fossils, but captures visitors’ imagination with iPad programs, animations and artwork on the walls and floor, which will allow children to familiarise themselves very closely with the names and shapes of these significant animals that called Australia home millions of years ago. The gallery features a wealth of specimens that have only ever been seen by a handful of scientists worldwide, and footage from British naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough’s Emmy Award-winning series First Life, which was filmed on location in the Flinders Ranges with the Museum’s leading Palaeontologist, Professor Jim Gehling.

South Australia’s Flinders Ranges holds the enviable position of being the resting place of life from the Ediacaran Period (more than 550 million years ago) and the Museum is the custodian of these specimens. Our scientists collect and analyse these animals to understand and explain what they looked like, how they behaved and interacted with other creatures, what they ate and what their role was in evolution.

Funded by the generosity of private donors, the refurbished First Life Ediacara Fossil Gallery opens to the donors in a special event on Monday evening, and to the general public on Tuesday 17 December 2013. South Australia can be proud to house such an important gallery. The gallery spans the entire history of the “first life” on Earth, from 3.5 billon-year-old rocks bearing the first microbes, to fossils of the first large and complex animals on Earth — the Ediacara biota.

In 1946, Dr Reginald Sprigg, the late South Australian geologist and conservationist, discovered the fossilised remains of an entire community of soft-bodied creatures. He made this amazing discovery in the Ediacaran Hills on the western margins of the world-renowned Flinders Ranges. This incredible find led to the revision of the international Geological Time Scale in 2005 to reflect the newly created Ediacaran Period. This was the first new geological period to be declared in more than 120 years and the first to be named after a location in the Southern Hemisphere.

Professor Jim Gehling says, “Every year we get a series of both students and palaeontological experts making a special trip to South Australia in hope of seeing real Ediacaran fossils. They want to come to the place where these things were first discovered and if they can, they want to go to the Flinders Ranges. But this is the window to the Flinders for people who can’t get there. All animals, even those that eventually swam and chased each other, and vertebrate animals like us had an origin. And that origin is somewhere in that Ediacaran gallery”.

“A major feature of this gallery is the key evidence that the marine animals of the Ediacara biota were not just immobile life-forms, but also included the first animals on Earth that grazed and moved across these 550 million-year-old seafloors, leaving distinctive traces.”

The Museum team creating the new gallery, including 3D Designer Jo Bain, Preparator Greg Parnell and Exhibition Designer Brett Chandler, have worked tirelessly to create an environment that will be engaging, attractive and educational.

“School children will be able to use putty and make imprints of the fossils. You can’t do that in any other museum. If we put glass in front of it, as other museums do, it would make it that much harder to see.

“The new gallery is pitched at people of all ages – even children whose heads don’t even go over the benches  they can look through windows at the reconstructions of the seafloor. They may not be so interested in tiny little impressions on sandstones but they will be interested in a reconstructed aquarium of what first life looked like. Young adults can go into the iPads and explore the stories further – and perhaps become keen young scientists who want to work on problems like this in the future.”

The Ediacara Gallery is designed for all ages from toddlers, to teenagers and tourists. One of the purposes of the Ediacara Gallery is to make the names and shapes of South Australia’s unique Ediacara fossils, like Kimberella, Tribrachidium, and Parvancorina, as familiar to young children as the names of dinosaurs.

While children can spot and recite the names of dinosaur species in their sleep, many are unfamiliar with the shapes and names of the exciting Ediacaran fossils such as Spriggina, Dickinsonia and Funisia.

The new and improved Ediacara Gallery is free and will be open daily from 10am to 5pm. The Gallery is generously supported by Beach Energy.