Answer Monday

A fossil!

It looks like a fern, right? But it’s not a fern. It’s not even a plant. It’s Charnia, sometimes described as “Leicester’s fossil celebrity,” especially by people in Leicester—the genus was named after Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire. Charnia is especially important because it was the first described macrofossil from undoubtedly Precambrian rocks. It was originally discovered by a schoolboy, Roger Mason, who is now a geosciences professor: there’s probably a moral here about either staying in school or looking for fossils. Anyhow, precisely what Charnia was is contentious: for years, scientists thought it was a sea pen, a kind of cnidarian, but the tide seems to have turned against that interpretation. Paleontologists Jonathan B. Antcliffe and Martin D. Brasier concluded a fifty-year-anniversary discussion of Charnia by saying they “favour the idea that Charnia and its relatives may represent something quite distinct.” In any case, frondly congratulations to Dan Phelps for identifying the animal (without, it seems, breaking a sweat), and a tip of the quite distinct hat to Steven Newton for the photograph.