Posted by: paulgarner | November 16, 2010

Attenborough’s First Life: Part Two

The second part of David Attenborough’s First Life programme gave an evolutionary interpretation of the arthropod fossil record between the Cambrian to the Carboniferous. Once again the fossil animals in question were brought to life with some lovely animations, including Burgess Shale animals such as Opabinia, Wiwaxia, Hallucigenia and Anomalocaris.

Localities featured in the programme included the Rocky Mountain ridge where Charles Walcott first discovered the enigmatic Burgess Shale fauna, Erfoud in Morocco where Devonian sediments yield some remarkable and sought-after trilobite specimens, and Crail on the east coast of Scotland where tree stumps and giant millipede-like tracks crop out in the Carboniferous sandstones.

To put these localities in some kind of creationist context, the Burgess Shale and the Moroccan sediments represent marine ecosystems buried early in the flood and the Carboniferous deposits part of the pre-flood floating forest reconstructed by Kurt Wise (2003). For some additional commentary on the Burgess Shale, see this review by Kurt Wise of Stephen Jay Gould’s book Wonderful Life.

Evidences of rapid burial were again noted at the visited sites. The conditions for fossilisation in the Burgess Shale were described as “uniquely perfect”. Indeed, the fossils found in the ‘Phyllopod Bed’ in the Walcott Quarry occur in graded units and display variable orientation with respect to the bedding (Morris 1990). It is thought that they were transported and catastrophically buried by submarine slides. Likewise, the abundance of enrolled and partially enrolled trilobites at Erfoud suggests that they were buried alive following transport in submarine avalanches. These observations seem consistent with burial during the global flood.

My comments on part one of the programme can be found here.


Morris S. C. 1990. Burgess Shale. In: Briggs D. E. G. and Crowther P. R. (editors), Palaeobiology: A Synthesis, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, pp.270-274.

Wise K. P. 2003. The pre-Flood floating forest: a study in paleontological pattern recognition. In: Ivey R.L. (editor), Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, pp.371-381.


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