In one of its earliest phases of development, the Earth went through a rather dangerous phase of constant bolide bombardment, fragments of debris that were spun round the developing system through a combination of momentum and gravity. This was followed by millions of years of endless scalding acid rain, and shortly thereafter came snowball Earth, when the surface was most probably covered with ice for long periods, completely frozen like a giant snowball. It was only then, most likely due to spikes in the amount of oxygen available in the atmosphere, that complex life started to evolve slowly, but for geological time exponentially fast, leading to the term the Cambrian explosion.
However, there was one life form that survived on the planet even through the hellish Hadaean and chilly snowball Earth. And one of them was found deep in the Leicestershire countryside at a place called Charnwood. Resembling a large sea pen, a sort of rubbery jelly fish, this organism was surviving in the ancient seas when Leicestershire was part of a volcanic arc above a subduction zone some 560 million years ago. The frond like species found in Charnwood forest is called Charnia and belongs to a group of ancient organisms called the Ediarcaran fauna. No physical parts of these organisms remain, probably because they were comprised mainly of soft tissue, yet they were still tough enough to leave their imprint on rocks that have survived for half a billion years.
These mysterious organisms stood rooted to the early sea floor via round ‘suction’ disks and somehow absorbed food, though they had no obvious mouths, or even a digestive system. They did have one clear feature that distinguished themselves from other organisms of the Precambrian though – a bilateral body plan. And in this regard, they were one of our earliest ancestors. We too have a symmetrical body plan, where one side of our bodies is a mirror image of the other. And we have retained this bilateralism in the design of our bodies, in particular our nervous systems, which originates from one ‘stem’ and branches out from this in a network of veins and arteries.
So in the Ediacaran fauna we have the origins of a symmetrical, or polar, way of being, albeit it in a primitive form, and over the period of around half a billion years this has evolved both physically and mentally into our polarised worldview and all the rich experiences that this entails.
Trilobite As complex life began to evolve, the body plan changed gradually from the symmetrical, or polar, to threefold. Enter, the Trilobites those magnificent embodyments of the trinity who were to rule the shallow seas for a period of around 200 million years. There were many species of trilobite, but they all had the same body plan consisting of a head (cephalon), a middle section (thorax) and a pygidium (tail) from tip to toe and their triple segmented body armour, or lobes, from left to right.
They belonged to the phylum Arthropoda, invertebrates characterised by hard outer casting and jointed limbs. The concept of armour had arrived, implying the need for protection in an increasingly hostile world. Indeed, some bizarre predators had evolved -the Burgess Shale has some extraordinary examples like Hallucigenia and Anomalacaris both of which swallow prey whole. Towards the end of Ordovician times global climate became progressively cooler and large amounts of water became locked up in ice. This was the first death knell in the rule of the Trilobites, and climate change paved the way for different life forms during the Silurian that were to make the transition from marine to freshwater, and finally on to land. Ammonite
From the Silurian life began to develop in complexity, bringing in fish in all sorts of varieties including placoderms and lungfish and on land, the tetrapods. It was around this time that the geometrically fascinating ammonites came to dominate the marine environment, which they did until the end of the Cretaceous when everything changed. Ammonites are molluscs and belong to the cephalopod group, named from the Greek kephale, head, and podia, foot, because of the tentacles they have in the head region. So nature designed them to literally have their feet in their mouth! These soft parts enabled them to swim with the aid of jet propulsion and catch prey in their long floating tentacles.
It is of course their remarkable shells that have secured them their fame, named from its resemblance to the coiled rams horn of the Egyptian god Ammon. Both phenomena of nature embody the golden spiral that arises from the Fibonacci series, itself based on the transcendental number phi, 0.618, or its inverse, 1.618. The ammonites were the first to embody this magical number on Earth, which can subsequently be found in such diverse life forms as leaves unfolding round a stem, seeds in a sunflower and spiral shaped atmospheric weather patterns.