500 Million Year Mystery Solved

In mythology, there are many things that are capable of turning someone to stone.  The legendary Basilisk, or even the dreaded Medusa can simply gaze upon their foes and turn them heart first into a statue.  A group of stone creatures have been perplexing scientists for years, though no magical monsters are suspected in this particular case.

What could turn an entire creature entirely to stone?  Of course fossilization has been going on since life first appeared on this earth, but primarily targets hard pieces of bone, teeth, and shell.  What about a creature that was entirely turned to stone from head to toe, right to its very heart?  Such is the case with several creatures who were flash-frozen in time almost half a billion years ago.  Only now has the mystery finally been solved.

Almost half a billion years ago, somehow a group of fossils in what would later become Canada became hardened into fossils in the Burgess Shales.  At the time, Canada was close to the equator, and a tropical climate.  Though fossils normally come from hardened chitinous shells, rather than softer fleshy tissue, the one exception was this area of the Burgess Shales that somehow fossilized not only hardened shells, but also soft tissue.  For years scientists questioned how this could possibly be, but now the mystery has been solved thanks to scientists.

The Bones, Shells, and Teeth of most organisms remain long after death when the rest of the body has decayed.  These skeletons are left behind, and over time the pieces of sediment replace the bone matter bit by bit, turning the bones to stone with the original shape of the contours and details intact.  With these bone pieces left in a semi-immortal sedimentary state we can study them as though they were the bones themselves.  The only problem with this is the lack of soft tissue connecting to the bones, making it difficult to study the real physiology of these creatures.

Incredibly, the explanation to the five hundred million old mystery, “How did soft tissue last for the thousands of years required to preserve it” has finally been solved.  It appears a massive mud slide covered the organisms present very quickly, within a matter of minutes, and then continued to bury them until they were down so far that normal decomposition couldn’t take place.  The result?  Soft tissue turned to stone.

So it appears the Burgess Shale was rather than a sudden explosion of evolution, rather a snapshot of life that had already existed.  Since their discovery, the stones have been taken apart slice by slice and recreated to give the creatures preserved an anatomy that includes the various organs necessary for life and some insight into possible evolutionary developments.

Of course the Burgess Shale entombing ancient critters in rock may not be as dramatic as the mythical beings of old, it certainly does go to show that transmogrification to rock certainly can happen if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Though it certainly wasn’t a pleasant way to go, these creatures did find their own sort of immortality long after the rest of their species died out.