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Complex Fossil Brain 520 Million Years Old

Complex Fossil Brain 520 Million Years Old

A complex fossil brain, at least a fossilized brain structure, provides new evidence that complex brains existed 520 million years ago. This is pretty amazing, since it is not long after animal variation exploded. Here’s a bit about it: first the about the fossil brain structure, then about the Cambrian Explosion.

Fossil Brain Structure, What it Means and a Little Background (via ScienceDaily 2012)

  • Fuxianhuia protensa contained an advanced brain anatomy, but a primitive body design.
  • The fossil’s size is about three inches long.
  • The fossil brain’s shape matches that of a similar-sized modern malacostracan.
    • A malacostracan is a crustacean (some species include crabs, lobster, and shrimp [Wikipedia 2012]).
  • The Fuxianhuia protensa is a member of the taxonomic group arthropods, which includes arachnids, insects, and crustaceans (of course!)
  • These fossil brains indicate that branchiopod’s brains evolved from more complex brains.
    • Brine shrimp is a type of branchiopod.
    • Branchipod brains are much simpler than those of other malacostraca.
  • Malacostraca appeared in the fossil record during the Early Cambrian (Wikipedia 2012); 520 million years ago falls within the Early Cambrian.
  • The intact fossil of Fuxianhuia protensa was embedded within mudstones deposited 520 million years ago.
  • The mudstones laid down in (currently) Yunnan Province in China.

Cambrian Explosion (Waggoner et al. 1994 through 2011)

  • The fossil brain belongs to a 520 million year old individual (ScienceDaily 2012).
  • 520 million years ago was after the Cambrian Explosion, during which a lot of life diversity occurred.
  • The Cambrian Explosion occurred about 530 million years ago. It was short.
  • The oceans became oxygenated during the Cambrian, which may have triggered the explosion of life.
  • Water covered much of the world.
  • The world was fairly warm.


2012 Cambrian Fossil Pushes Back Evolution of Complex Brains. ScienceDaily (published online October 10, 2012). Electronic document,, accessed October 10, 2012.

Waggoner, Ben M. and Alan G. Collins, with Karen Hsu, Myun Kang, Amy Lavarius, Kavitha Prabaker, Kody Skaggs, Brian Speer, Sarah Reiboldt, and Dave Smith
1994 through 2011 The Cambrian Period. University of California Museum of Paleontology website (first written in 1994, last updated and reformatted on July 6, 2011). Electronic document,, accessed October 10, 2012.

2012 Malacostra. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (page last modified on October 4, 2012). Electronic document,, accessed October 10, 2012.

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Complex Fossil Brain 520 Million Years Old by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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