Exploring the Layers of Life

25 April 2013

Senior geologists from every Australian state have toured the famous Ediacaran fossil sites in the Flinders Ranges, on a visit led by the South Australian Museum's Palaeontologist Prof Jim Gehling.

The fossils of the oldest known marine animal communities from more than 550 million years ago are preserved in rocks from South Australia's Flinders Ranges, and especially in places like Brachina Gorge and Nilpena.

Australia's chief geologists from the Federal Government's Geoscience Australia, the State Geological Survey, oversee geological information that is vital for Australia's future. They work with industry towards "the responsible development of the nation's resources, including management of the environment; cleaner and low emissions energy technology, marine planning and protection and community safety".

The purpose of the visit was for the experts to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the amazing geological record of the Flinders Ranges, including the spectacular Arkaroola region and world famous rocks and fossils of the Ediacaran Period. Their field meeting focused on developing closer relationships with their counterparts to facilitate future collaboration.

The scientists observed the intricate Ediacara imprints of some of the oldest known marine animals like Spriggina and Dickinsonia, and were guided by Prof Gehling through the research methods used and seafloor excavations made by the South Australian Museum's palaeontology team.

It was a valuable opportunity for these geoscientists to get up close and personal with examples of the first animal life on Earth. They could also appreciate the enormous respect the local community has for the Museum's researchers.

Prof Gehling has been studying the fossils of Ediacara at Nilpena in the Flinders Ranges with the support of Nilpena owners Ross and Jane Fargher, international colleague Prof Mary Droser, and museum volunteers for more than 10 years.

He says the major challenge for the next generation of geologists and palaeontologists will be to follow the groundbreaking research and to be effective guardians of the fossils.

"In the Flinders Ranges we have a world class geological record of early animal life and the environmental events that shaped life. How we manage this amazing record of our deepest origins is in the hands of the South Australian Museum, local custodians and heritage-minded citizens like our dedicated volunteers and supporting companies like Beach Energy and Santos."

The Ediacaran and Cambrian fossils of the Flinders Ranges have attracted many curious scientists and tourists to the region.Plans are being explored to expand displays to promote conservation and protection of the valuable specimens.

"Our scientists are working with the local community to educate them about the geological significance of the site, so they can be guardians of the precious fossils.

"Only when local custodians of the Flinders Ranges have the opportunity to value their natural heritage can they take ownership of, and conserve these assets for future generations."