Vendian stratigraphy Vendian ancient life Vendian localities

Vendian: Stratigraphy

The Vendian, sometimes called the Ediacaran, is the latest portion of the Proterozoic Era. It began about 650 million years ago, and ended about 543 million years ago with the beginning of the Cambrian Period. Unlike later portions of the geologic time scale, the Vendian has no formal subdivisions nor distinct early boundary. This is in large part due to the fact that it has only recently become a subject of interest to paleontologists.

For many decades, paleontologists believed that life began in the Cambrian, or that if simpler life had existed in the Precambrian, that it left no fossil evidence for us to find. A few believed that the Cambrian fossils represented the moment of God's creation of animals, or the first deposits laid down by the biblical Flood. Darwin wrote, "the difficulty of assigning any good reason for the absence of vast piles of strata rich in fossils beneath the Cambrian system is very great," yet he expressed hope that such fossils would be found, noting that "only a small portion of the world is known with accuracy."

Many paleontologists held little hope that fossils would ever be found in rocks so ancient as the Vendian. It is now known that rock layers may be deeply buried, twisted, folded and melted by geologic forces. It is easy to see that such changes to rock would destroy any fossils that might otherwise have been preserved. Older layers of rock, which have been around for a longer time, are more likely to have undergone such changes, and are thus less likely to preserve fossils.

With no known fossils from the Vendian little more could be said, but in the 20th century macroscopic fossils of soft-bodied animals, algae, and fossil bacteria have been found in these older rocks in a few localities around the world. With the discovery of these earliest fossils came a surge of interest in the Vendian and the Proterozoic Era that continues today.