Revealing Earth’s Past: Thailand’s New Trilobite Species Unearth Gondwanaland’s History

by Santiago Fernandez
Trilobite Discovery Thailand

In Thailand, a remarkable discovery of ten trilobite species, dating back 490 million years, offers a window into the history of the Earth and the ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland. An artist has created a visual representation of a trilobite, inspired by its preserved soft body parts. Artist: Nobu Tamura.

Recently Uncovered Ancient Marine Creatures in Thai Natural Reserve

A recent discovery in a less explored region of Thailand has brought to light ten new trilobite species, aged 490 million years. These findings could be crucial in decoding the complex history of ancient global geography.

Trilobites, now extinct, were marine creatures with crescent-shaped heads and used their legs for breathing. A detailed 100-page study in a British journal elaborates on these new species, including one named after Thai Royal Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Techniques for Fossil Preservation and Dating

These trilobite fossils were found encased between layers of solidified ash in sandstone, remnants of ancient volcanic eruptions that settled on the ocean floor, forming a greenish layer known as a tuff. Tuffs contain zircon crystals, formed during volcanic eruptions, known for their durability.

Zircon is notable for its chemical stability and resistance to heat and weathering. It’s as hard as steel and survives when other rock minerals erode. These zircon crystals encase uranium atoms, which gradually decay into lead atoms.

Fossil of Tsinania sirindhornae, named to honor the Thai Royal Princess for her commitment to science. Credit: Shelly Wernette/UCR.

Nigel Hughes, co-author of the monograph and geology professor at UC Riverside, explains that radioisotope dating methods are used to determine the age of the zircon and, consequently, the age of the fossils.

Importance of This Discovery for Understanding Earth’s History

Finding tuffs from the late Cambrian period, around 497 to 485 million years ago, is rare. “This period is poorly dated in Earth’s history,” says Hughes.

Location of these fossil discoveries. Credit: Shelly Wernette/UCR.

Shelly Wernette, former geologist in Hughes’s lab, now at Texas State University, and primary author of the study, notes that these tuffs not only help date the Thai fossils but also aid in understanding regions like China, Australia, and North America, where similar fossils were found in undatable rocks.

The fossils were discovered on Ko Tarutao’s coast, about 40 minutes southwest of the mainland by high-speed boat, in a UNESCO geopark site that has attracted international scientific collaboration.

Global Significance and Ongoing Research

Wernette highlights the discovery of 12 trilobite types, previously found in other global regions but never in Thailand. “This connects Thailand with parts of Australia, an exhilarating find.”

During the era of these trilobites, this area was on the outer edges of Gondwanaland, an ancient supercontinent comprising Africa, India, Australia, South America, and Antarctica.

“Our task is to reconstruct this region of Thailand’s position in relation to Gondwanaland. It’s like solving a dynamic, three-dimensional puzzle,” Hughes states. “This discovery aids in that reconstruction.”

For instance, the species named after Princess Sirindhorn was chosen for her dedication to science advancement in Thailand. “The species possesses a noble appearance, with a wide head-dress and elegant lines,” Wernette remarks.

Dating the tuffs containing the Tsinania sirindhornae species could align the age of related Tsinania species found in China.

The researchers believe the fossil record provides crucial insights into past evolutionary changes and extinctions, which are vital for understanding current environmental challenges.

“This is a narrative of evolution and extinction written by the Earth, a fortunate record for us to have,” Hughes concludes. “Learning from it equips us for today’s planetary challenges.”

Reference: “Trilobites of Thailand’s Cambrian–Ordovician Tarutao Group and their geological setting” by Shelly J. Wernette, Nigel C. Hughes, Paul M. Myrow, and Apsorn Sardsud, 04 October 2023, Papers in Palaeontology.
DOI: 10.1002/spp2.1516

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Trilobite Discovery Thailand

What is the significance of the newly discovered trilobite species in Thailand?

The discovery of ten new trilobite species in Thailand is significant because it provides insights into Earth’s geological history, particularly the ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland. This discovery enhances our understanding of the distribution and evolution of marine life 490 million years ago.

How were the trilobite fossils in Thailand dated?

The trilobite fossils in Thailand were dated using radioisotope techniques on zircon crystals found in tuffs, which are layers formed from ancient volcanic ash. These techniques help determine the age of the volcanic eruptions and consequently the age of the fossils.

What makes the discovery of these trilobites unique?

The uniqueness of this discovery lies in the rarity of finding tuffs from the late Cambrian period, which is a poorly dated interval in Earth’s history. These findings help in better understanding and dating similar fossils in other parts of the world like China, Australia, and North America.

What are some characteristics of the trilobites found in Thailand?

The trilobites found in Thailand are extinct marine creatures with half-moon-shaped heads and breathed through their legs. One of the species is named in honor of Thai Royal Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, reflecting its distinguished characteristics.

How does this discovery contribute to global geological research?

This discovery contributes significantly to global geological research by connecting Thailand to other parts of the world like Australia, based on the trilobite species found. It helps in reconstructing the geographical history of Gondwanaland and provides a clearer picture of the planet’s geological past.

More about Trilobite Discovery Thailand

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Sarah K November 24, 2023 - 8:09 am

its incredible how these old creatures can tell us so much about our planet’s history…Gondwanaland was such a mysterious place, glad we’re learning more.

Raj Patel November 24, 2023 - 2:13 pm

I read about this in another article too, the fact that they used zircon crystals for dating is super cool, science never ceases to amaze!

Emily Turner November 24, 2023 - 7:58 pm

This is a great finding but i wonder, how do they even know these fossils are 490 million years old? seems like a big number to just guess.

Mike Johnson November 24, 2023 - 11:26 pm

Wow this is huge news! Always thought trilobites were fascinating, and to find so many in Thailand? Just amazing!


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