Looking Back 560-Million Years

Emily Hughes brings us tales of adventure and discovery from the Australian Outback as she and her mother search for unbelievably ancient fossils. In the Outback, north of Adelaide, Australia, the landscape holds surprising secrets.

As you might imagine, the Earth was a very different place 560-million years ago. So different, in fact, that where I am sitting right now in the middle of the Australian Outback would have been totally underwater. But what is the importance of 560-million years? Well, if we took a time machine back that far, we would meet up with Earth’s earliest animals: the Ediacaran biota.

This entire hill range would have been underwater 560-million years ago. (Photo by Emily Hughes)

The Ediacaran Period was home to many distinctive species, including the Dickinsonia and Spriggina. Each of these were sea creatures that dwelled on the algae-covered seafloor. And, it’s evident that they lived in the sea, not on land, because of the rock that they are preserved in.

The ripples in this rock indicate that it used to be the sea floor. (Photo Creds: Mary Droser)
The ripples in this rock indicate that it used to be the sea floor. (Photo by Mary Droser)

Many of the rock beds where the fossils can be found are rippled, showing the pattern of waves as they washed over the rocks. These species and rocks are incredibly important for understanding the history of life on this planet, and discovering linkage between past and present.

Today is the first day we have returned to the field, and we spent it brushing kangaroo poop off of the fossil specimens. However, we are all excited to return to the world that existed 560-million years before ours, and we wait to uncover the secrets that these rocks have contained for millions of years.

Read More by Emily Hughes

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Emily Hughes is an undergraduate student at Wesleyan University, born and bred in Riverside, California. She has spent the majority of her summers exploring the Australian Outback, and finding, recording, analyzing and generally admiring the 560-million year old Ediacara fossils preserved there. She is a prospective double major in English and Earth and Environmental Science, and she works for the student newspaper as well as the sustainability office.