Complex metazoan life arose in the Ediacaran, the earliest signs being in the Avalonian assemblages: frond-like organisms of unestablished taxonomic affinity, feeding strategy and ecological role. What is well-established is the Avalonian Ediacaran’s sessility: this early example of a metazoan community existed before mobility. Currie will use the Avalonian biota to build a new framework for understanding the epistemology of sciences concerned with the deep past.

Most previous analyses of historical science focus on what Currie will call erasure: how ‘records’ of the past degrade as time goes by, and how this undermines the capacities of scientists to reconstruct the past. Currie will argue that in addition to erasure, we should focus on loss: in many ways the past is not like the present, and this challenges our capacity to understand it. As we’ll see, the lack of mobile animal life had profound consequences for the taphonomic and ecological context of Avalon; consequences making the Avalonian world fundamentally different to our own. We might say we live in separate worlds, and the differences between our worlds constitute a major epistemic challenge beyond the incompleteness of Avalonian ‘records’.

Currie will lay out a framework that captures both erasure and loss, and put it to work by articulating a set of strategies paleontologists adopt in light of past worlds. Currie will also explore how the lost world framework raises new perspectives regarding the value and nature of historical knowledge.

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