When Life Exploded

FOR BILLIONS OF YEARS, SIMPLE CREATURES LIKE PLANKTON, BACTERIA AND ALGAE RULED THE EARTH. THEN, SUDDENLY, LIFE GOT VERY COMPLICATED

An hour later and he might not have noticed the rock, much less stooped to pick it up. But the early morning sunlight slanting across the Namibian desert in southwestern Africa happened to illuminate momentarily some strange squiggles on a chunk of sandstone. At first Douglas Erwin, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, wondered if the meandering markings might be dried-up curls of prehistoric sea mud. But no, he decided after studying the patterns for a while, these were burrows carved by a small, wormlike creature that arose in long-vanished subtropical seas — an archaic organism that, as Erwin...

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