Ediacara fossils gallery

The first life: Ediacara Biota gallery showcases some of the finest examples of the oldest known examples of complex, multicellular animal life on Earth.

The gallery illustrates the story of the evolution of life, based on field research where our palaeontologists are excavating areas of fossil seafloors and discovering new fossil sites in the Flinders Ranges.

Ediacara fossils are unique as the oldest large and complex organisms on Earth, preserved as impressions in sandstone. This gallery gives visitors the opportunity to explore fossil specimens, and view animations and fossil models to gain an understanding of how these creatures may have moved and lived up to 635 million years ago.

The ancient seabed displayed as a wall remains in pride of place. This iconic collection item is still being used by palaeontologists for further research.

The Ediacaran soft-bodied creatures lived on microbial mats on shallow seafloors. When smothered by sand they were preserved as mineral ‘death-mask imprints’. The fossils are simply the moulds and casts of their squashed bodies preserved as imprints in sandstone layers.

The fossils of these soft-bodied creatures were collected from many sites in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia. They were the basis for defining the first new geological period in over than a century: the Ediacaran Period. This new rung in the ladder of geological time is defined by a marker or ‘golden spike’ in the Flinders Ranges National Park.

It is the first such ‘golden spike’ to be defined in rocks of the Southern Hemisphere, let alone Australia. The Ediacaran Period began 635 million years ago and ended 542 million years ago with the Cambrian explosion of animal life, represented by animals with skeletons and shells. 

In 2010, naturalist Sir David Attenborough visited the National Heritage Listed Ediacara at Nilpena in the Flinders Ranges with Museum Palaeontologist Dr Jim Gehling and the Ediacara volunteers as part of the First Life BBC television series.

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Giant squid