“In a hilly 512-hectare site in Yunnan Province, Chengjiang’s fossils present the most complete record of an early Cambrian marine community with exceptionally preserved biota, displaying the anatomy of hard and soft tissues in a very wide variety of organisms, invertebrate and vertebrate. They record the early establishment of a complex marine ecosystem. The site documents at least sixteen phyla and a variety of enigmatic groups as well as about 196 species, presenting exceptional testimony to the rapid diversification of life on Earth 530 million years ago, when almost all of today’s major animal groups emerged. It opens a palaeobiological window of great significance to scholarship.” This is the remark that UNESCO made when the Chengjiang Fossil Site was inscribed on the World Natural Heritage List in 2012.
The Chengjiang Fossil Site, located in Maotianshan Hill on the east bank of Fuxian Lake in Chengjiang County, Yunnan Province, is a zigzag belt that measures 20 kilometers in length, 4.5 kilometers in width, and more than 50 meters in depth. To date, its proven burial area has been 18 square kilometers. The site conserves features of the biology on the earth in the early Cambrian Period that dates back to 530 million years ago, and its discovery pushes forward the proven history of the vertebrates by nearly 60 million years. In this short geological interval, the explosion of life began on the earth, and almost all major groups of animals had their origins.
The fossils discovered at the Chengjiang Fossil Site cover diverse species and categories. To date, there have been unearthed fossils of 196 species of animals in 16 phyla, including spongia, coelenterates, brachiopods, annelids, and arthropods. Moreover, fossils of a dozen species, which cannot be classified as any category, such as the famous Fuxianhuia, Maotianshania, Yunnanozoon lividum, Kunmingia, and Kuamaia lata, have been found there.
The Chengjiang Fossil Site is acclaimed as “one of the rarest and most amazing paleontological discoveries of the 20th century”, presenting an important record of early biological evolution on the earth.