Template:Geological period The Cambrian is a geologic period and system that began about Template:Period startTemplate:Period start error Ma (million years ago) at the end of the Proterozoic eon and ended about Template:Period endTemplate:Period start error Ma with the beginning of the Ordovician period Template:ICS 2004. It was the first period of the Paleozoic era of the Phanerozoic eon. The Cambrian takes its name from Cambria, the classical name for Wales, the area where rocks from this time period were first studied.
The Cambrian is the earliest period in whose rocks are found numerous large, distinctly fossilizable multicellular organisms. This sudden appearance of hard body fossils is referred to as the Cambrian explosion. Despite the long recognition of its distinction from younger Ordovician rocks and older Precambrian rocks it was not until 1994 that this time period was internationally ratified. The base of the Cambrian is defined on a complex assemblage of trace fossils known as the Trichophycus pedum assemblage. This assemblage is distinct from anything in the Precambrian as it has ecologically tiered vertical burrows which are absent from the Precambrian.
The Cambrian period follows the Ediacaran and is followed by the Ordovician period. The Cambrian is divided into three epochs — the Early Cambrian (Caerfai or Waucoban), Middle Cambrian (St Davids or Albertian) and Furongian (also known as Late Cambrian, Merioneth or Croixan). Rocks of these epochs are referred to as belonging to the Lower, Middle, or Upper Cambrian.
Each of the epochs are divided into several stages. Only one, the Paibian, has been recognized by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, and others are still unnamed. However, the Cambrian is divided into several regional faunal stages of which the Russian-Kazakhian system is most used in international parlance:
The time range for the Cambrian has classically been thought to have been from about 500 mya to about 570 mya. The lower boundary of the Cambrian was traditionally set at the earliest appearance of early arthropods known as trilobites and also unusual forms known as archeocyathids (literally 'ancient cup') that are thought to be the earliest sponges and also the first non-microbial reef builders.
The end of the period was eventually set at a fairly definite faunal change now identified as an extinction event. Fossil discoveries and radiometric dating in the last quarter of the 20th century have called these dates into question. Date inconsistencies as large as 20 Ma are common between authors. Framing dates of ca. () 545 to 490 mya were proposed by the International Subcommission on Global Stratigraphy as recently as 2002.
A radiometric date from New Brunswick puts the end of the first stage of the Cambrian around 511 mya. This leaves 21 Ma for the other two stages of the Cambrian.
A more precise date of 542 ± 0.3 mya for the extinction event at the beginning of the Cambrian has recently been submitted. The rationale for this precise dating is interesting in itself as an example of paleological deductive reasoning. Exactly at the Cambrian boundary there is a marked fall in the abundance of carbon-13, a "reverse spike" that paleontologists call an excursion. It is so widespread that it is the best indicator of the position of the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary in stratigraphic sequences of roughly this age. One of the places that this well-established carbon-13 excursion occurs is in Oman. Amthor (2003) describes evidence from Oman that indicates the carbon-isotope excursion relates to a mass extinction: the disappearance of distinctive fossils from the Precambrian coincides exactly with the carbon-13 anomaly. Fortunately, in the Oman sequence, so too does a volcanic ash horizon from which zircons provide a very precise age of 542 ± 0.3 Ma (calculated on the decay rate of uranium to lead). This new and precise date tallies with the less precise dates for the carbon-13 anomaly, derived from sequences in Siberia and Namibia. It is presented here as likely to become accepted as the definitive age for the start of the Phanerozoic eon, and thus the start of the Paleozoic era and the Cambrian period.
Cambrian continents are thought to have resulted from the breakup of a Neoproterozoic supercontinent called Pannotia. The waters of the Cambrian period appear to have been widespread and shallow. Gondwana remained the largest supercontinent after the breakup of Pannotia. It is thought that Cambrian climates were significantly warmer than those of preceding times that experienced extensive ice ages discussed as the Varanger glaciation. Also there was no glaciation at the poles. Continental drift rates in the Cambrian may have been anomalously high. Laurentia, Baltica and Siberia remained independent continents since the break-up of the supercontinent of Pannotia. Gondwana started to drift towards the South Pole. Panthalassa covered most of the southern hemisphere, and minor oceans included the Proto-Tethys Ocean, Iapetus Ocean, and Khanty Ocean, all of which expanded by this time.
Of those modern animal phyla that fossilize easily, all save the bryozoans have claimed representatives in the Cambrian. Many extinct phyla and odd animals that have unclear relationships to other animals also appear in the Cambrian. The apparent "sudden" appearance of very diverse faunas over a period of no more than a few tens of millions of years is referred to as the "Cambrian Explosion". Also, the first possible tracks on land, such as Protichnites and Climactichnites, dating to about 530 mya and found in Ontario, Canada, and northern United States, appeared at this time. The conodonts, small predatory primitive chordates known from their fossilised teeth, also appeared during the Furongian epoch of the Cambrian period. The conodonts thrived throughout the Paleozoic and the early Mesozoic until they completely disappeared during the Late Triassic period when the first mammals were evolving.
The best studied sites where the soft parts of organisms have fossilized are in the Burgess shale of British Columbia. They represent strata from the Middle Cambrian and provide us with a wealth of information on early animal diversity. Similar faunas have subsequently been found in a number of other places — most importantly in very early Cambrian shales in the People's Republic of China's Yunnan Province (see Maotianshan shales). Fairly extensive Precambrian Ediacaran faunas have been identified in the past 50 years, but their relationships to Cambrian forms are quite obscure.
Generally it is accepted that there were no land plants at this time although molecular dating suggests that land plant ancestors diverged from the algae much earlier, in the Neoproterozoic about 700 maTemplate:Fix/category, and that fungi diverged from the animals about 1 billion years agoTemplate:Fix/category. The land at this time was barren, mostly desert and badlands.
- Gradstein, F.M. (2004). A Geologic Time Scale 2004. Cambridge University Press. Unknown parameter
- Gould, Stephen Jay; Wonderful Life: the Burgess Shale and the Nature of Life (New York: Norton, 1989)
- Amthor, J. E. (2003). "Extinction of Cloudina and Namacalathus at the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary in Oman". Geology. 31: pp 431–434. doi:10.1130/0091-7613(2003)031<0431:EOCANA>2.0.CO;2. doi:10.1130/0091-7613(2003)031<0431:EOCANA>2.0.CO;2 10.1130/0091-7613(2003)031<0431:EOCANA>2.0.CO;2 . Unknown parameter
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- Ogg, Jim; June, 2004, Overview of Global Boundary Stratotype Sections and Points (GSSP's) http://www.stratigraphy.org/gssp.htm Accessed April 30, 2006.
- Weird Life on the Mats
- Dr. Sam Gon's trilobite pages (contains numerous Cambrian trilobites)
- Report on the web on Amthor and others from Geology vol. 31
- Paleomap Project
- Examples of Cambrian Fossils
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